Dems Move Toward First Vote to Crack Down On Gun Violence by John Bresnahan for Politico
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by BriteHeart | 2.25.19
In the most high-profile congressional vote on gun control in years, House Democrats are set to pass a bipartisan measure this week that mandates federal background checks on all gun sales, including private transactions.
House Democrats have also scheduled a vote on legislation to extend the deadline for federal background checks from three business days to as many as 20. The legislation is designed to close the “Charleston Loophole,” which allowed white supremacist Dylann Roof, who killed nine African-Americans at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, to buy a gun despite pending felony drug charges against him.
The bills face opposition from the National Rifle Association and President Donald Trump and are likely to run into a major roadblock in the GOP-controlled Senate. But their quick passage underscores the significance of the Democratic victory in November and just how much this new majority differs from predecessors, even Democratic ones, that trod carefully on guns.
The House debate over the universal backgrounds checks bill is expected to feature a macabre reminder of the toll gun violence has on Congress itself. Former Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) is set to be on Capitol Hill this week to lobby for the measure. The bill was introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and other gun control advocates on Jan. 8, the eighth anniversary of the mass shooting in which Giffords was nearly killed.
Yet House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who was shot and grievously wounded after a gunman targeted a June 2017 practice for the annual congressional baseball game, opposes the bill.
The divide between Giffords and Scalise over the background checks bill symbolizes the enormous gulf the country and Congress face on the issue of guns, a split that is partisan, cultural and intractable.
When they held the House from 2007 to 2011, Democrats didn't push major gun control legislation, fearing such a move could cause political damage to their vulnerable members. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her Democratic colleagues faced major challenges in the Iraq War and the 2008 financial crisis, of course and passed ambitious health care and climate change legislation. Gun politics were a bridge too far for many Democrats.
But now, after a seemingly never-ending string of mass shootings — including the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 students and staff members dead and triggered a new drive to enact gun control legislation — the politics of the issue are different for both Democrats and the nation.
“House Democrats are taking action to make sure our communities and our nation are safer,” said Rep. Lucy McBath, a freshman Democrat from Georgia tapped by Pelosi to give the party’s Saturday radio address. McBath’s 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, was shot to death in 2012, and she has emerged as a leading voice in the Democratic freshman class on the issue. “We need commonsense legislation to prevent gun violence and ensure that mothers and fathers have one less reason to worry.”
Gun control groups such as Giffords — named after the former congresswoman — and Everytown for Gun Safety — financed by billionaire businessman and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg — poured millions of dollars into the 2018 House races in support of pro-gun control candidates. The Democratic victory ensured that there would be quick action on the issue this year.
“Too many families in too many places have endured the heartbreak of gun violence — and for far too long, the Congress has failed to take action to end this senseless pain,” Pelosi said in a statement. “This long-overdue bill respects the will of the American people, 97 percent of whom support universal background checks, and respects our obligations to the survivors and families of gun violence.”
Gun rights advocates oppose the universal background checks bill, which the NRA has said “criminalizes the private transfer of firearms and targets law-abiding gun owners for persecution. It would make criminals out of law-abiding gun owners for simply loaning a firearm to a friend or some family members.”
The gun rights group also warns, as it has for years, that the legislation would be unenforceable without establishing a federal gun registration.
“We all want to end gun violence, and we should be talking about commonsense solutions that can actually help prevent it — like supporting local law enforcement, ensuring laws and protocols are followed to spot warning signs, improving mental health care and implementing my national concealed carry reciprocity bill,” said Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), a leading proponent of gun rights legislation.
Hudson authored a bill passed by the GOP-controlled House last Congress to allow state-issued concealed carry license holders to bring their weapons to other states, and he will offer his proposal as an amendment to Democrats' background checks bill.
Hudson accused Democrats of "pushing an overreaching bill that would have done nothing to prevent recent mass violence, but would endanger the constitutional rights of millions of law-abiding Americans.”
By SARAH FERRIS
Only five House Republicans have endorsed the universal background checks bill: Peter King of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Brian Mast of Florida and Chris Smith of New Jersey. A similar number of Democrats is likely to vote against the bill, according to House lawmakers and aides, but with more than 230 co-sponsors, the measure is expected to pass.
"After decades of inaction, we finally have lawmakers in power who are not only willing but eager to vote for and pass gun violence prevention legislation," Peter Ambler, executive director of Giffords, said. Ambler said the House vote is a sign "of how much the politics [of guns] have shifted."
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and freshman Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.) are the lead authors of the "Enhanced Backgrounds Checks" proposal, along with King, the New York Republican.
“In 2016 alone, 4,000 firearms passed into the hands of criminals or people who were mentally ill who should not have had those weapons and who would have been caught if there was adequate amount of time to process their background checks,” Cunningham told reporters in South Carolina last week.
House Republicans oppose the Clyburn bill as well, arguing that it undermines the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is used to vet gun purchases from federally licensed gun dealers.
"It essentially eliminates the three-day waiting period and imposes a 20-day waiting period for countless firearm purchasers," said Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. "Not only is the 20-day waiting period excessive, it is an onerous process that unduly burdens potential firearms purchasers."
The Democratic bills are not likely to go anywhere in the Republican-controlled Senate. And despite occasional rhetoric to the contrary, Trump has aligned himself with the NRA and the gun rights movement.
After the horrific Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012, President Barack Obama and a Democratic-run Senate were unable to overcome a GOP-led filibuster to a bipartisan universal background checks bill offered by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).
Now, with Republicans in the Senate majority, any House legislation has even slimmer odds. While Democrats and gun control advocates argue that vulnerable GOP senators up for reelection in 2020 might be gettable, it's nearly impossible to see how they could overcome a GOP blockade or, in the end, a Trump veto.
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