Senate Dems unveil new gun control push
© Greg Nash

Roughly two-dozen Senate Democrats unveiled a sweeping new gun control campaign Thursday in the wake of last week's mass shooting at a community college in Oregon.

The Democratic push focuses on three areas: bolstering current background check requirements, closing "loopholes" on background checks when guns are bought at gun shows or online, and closing the "pipeline of illegal guns" by making gun trafficking a federal crime.

ADVERTISEMENT
Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees MORE (D-Ore.) said that the three areas are "reasonable," adding that "they're common sense. They ought to have bipartisan support."

More than half of the Senate Democratic Conference was at Thursday's event, bringing together red-state Democrats such as Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPavlich: The claim Trump let the mentally ill get guns is a lie Toomey to introduce bill broadening background checks for firearms Scott Walker backs West Virginia attorney general in GOP Senate primary MORE (W.Va.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMcCaskill welcomes ninth grandson in a row Dem group launches M ad buy to boost vulnerable senators Senate Dems block crackdown on sanctuary cities MORE (Mo.) with vocal advocates for additional gun control measures, such as Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyLawmakers feel pressure on guns Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks Kasich’s campaign website tones down gun language after Florida shooting MORE (Conn.).

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineSave lives, restore congressional respect by strengthening opioids’ seizure Overnight Finance: Lawmakers, Treasury look to close tax law loopholes | Trump says he backs gas tax hike | Markets rise despite higher inflation | Fannie Mae asks for .7B Bipartisan Senate group says they have immigration deal MORE (D-Va.), who was governor of Virginia during the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, said the idea behind the new push is to "start a national movement around a couple of principles. ... This should be easy."

But in a GOP-controlled Congress, Republican senators were notably absent from Thursday's press conference.

A Senate GOP aide said that Republican senators weren't invited to participate in drafting the gun control principles or attend Thursday's event.

Acknowledging the likely Republican opposition, Murphy said that "every great reform movement has faced one of these moments where the political odds seem stacked against you."

"If we aren't even having a debate on the floor of the Senate ... people come to the conclusion that we must be OK with it," he added.

It’s unclear when Democrats will write legislation based on the principles they unveiled, but if they want to get a proposal passed through the Senate, they’ll need more than a dozen Republicans to help them overcome a filibuster that any gun control bill would likely face.

Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats now attack internet rules they once embraced Schumer: Trump budget would ‘cripple’ gun background checks Schumer: Senate Republicans' silence 'deafening' on guns, Russia MORE (D-N.Y.) said that "at the right time we will make sure there is a vote on the floor, using all the procedural means we can. We have the ability to get a vote on this, and we will."

Asked whether Democrats would try to move the legislation during the current Congress, which runs through the end of 2016, Schumer replied, “We'll see when the ground swell hits.”

A staffer for Schumer said the New York Democrat misheard the question, and that Democrats will try to move the legislation later this year or early next year.

Republicans, however, have focused on mental health legislation in the wake of a string of high-profile mass shootings this year. Sen. John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers feel pressure on guns Kasich’s campaign website tones down gun language after Florida shooting Murphy: Trump’s support for background check bill shows gun politics ‘shifting rapidly’ MORE (R-Texas) told reporters earlier this week that he has begun reaching out Democrats on a proposal.

“I think people are intrigued. I've been talking to a number of them on an individual basis, and I hope to have something to announce here before long,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said on Thursday that while Democrats said "a lot of good things," he raised concerns about the unclear timeline of legislation.

"It can't stop by simply launching a campaign. ...They are Congress and they need to do their job," he told reporters. "They could introduce legislation today if they wanted to."

Peter Ambler, director at Americans for Responsible Solutions, added that senators should be willing to detail where they stand on the proposals outlined by Democrats.

"We want to hear every United States senator’s plan for exactly what they would, or would not, do to reduce gun violence in our country," he said.

The lobbying-wing of the National Rifle Association slammed Democrats, suggesting they are helping the administration "politicize" mass shootings. 

"President Obama proudly admits that he wants to politicize these horrific events to push his gun control agenda - and his allies in Congress are happy to do his bidding. If Obama and gun control advocates were serious, they would address the underlying issue of America’s broken mental health system," Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, said.

Separately, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is expected to introduce legislation that would close a loophole that allows a retailer to sell a gun without a background check after 72 hours.

The Connecticut Democrat was scheduled to unveil his proposal on Wednesday but it was postponed. He said on Thursday that he is still planning to introduce legislation.

--This report was updated at 4:30 p.m.