Top Dem criticizes GOP for bowing to NRA

Top Dem criticizes GOP for bowing to NRA
© Greg Nash

The second-ranking House Democrat went after GOP leaders on Tuesday for caving to the gun lobby in rejecting new firearm controls after a mass shootings at a Florida high school.

Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerPelosi wants party leadership elections post-Thanksgiving The Hill's Morning Report — Trump denigrates NATO allies, floats 4 percent solution Dems struggle with unity amid leadership tensions MORE (D-Md.), the minority whip, said Democrats will support the Stop School Violence Act, the Republicans’ response to last month’s shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school. The legislation, which would provide states with new funding to train educators and students in violence-prevention tactics, is scheduled for a vote in the House on Wednesday.

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“The bill that’s being proposed I think will have … overwhelming support,” Hoyer said. “I don’t think there will be very many people who are going to oppose that, if any.”

But Hoyer said the proposal falls far short of the reforms needed to keep firearms out of the hands of unstable and potentially violent people, urging Republicans to consider another bipartisan bill expanding background checks to accompany virtually all gun sales nationwide. The Stop School Violence Act addresses violence in schools, Hoyer noted, but does nothing to prevent gun deaths elsewhere.

“It is not a substitute for things that will make our society, as well as our schools, our malls, our churches, our restaurants, our nightclubs — any place where large public gatherings occur — safer,” Hoyer said.

Hoyer accused Republican leaders of pandering to the National Rifle Association (NRA) in rejecting expanded background checks. 

“Ninety-seven percent of America supports that,” Hoyer said, referring to a recent Quinnipiac University poll. “This [Stop School Violence] bill is not a substitute for getting that done. This is a pretense that we are doing something while we’re showing the NRA we aren’t doing anything.”

Under current federal law, background checks prior to gun sales are required only of licensed firearm dealers, creating an enormous loophole for prohibited buyers to obtain guns from the internet and nonlicensed dealers — a loophole that Democrats, and some Republicans, want to close.

While the NRA had backed that idea after the 1999 mass shooting at Colorado’s Columbine High School, the group has since shifted to the right and now opposes any such expansion of pre-sale screenings.

The gun control debate has taken off since the Valentine’s Day mass shooting at south Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where police say a gunman killed 17 students and educators with a military-style rifle. The authorities charged a 19-year-old former student who has a history of violence and disciplinary problems. 

Republican leaders have sided with the NRA in their response to the shooting, rejecting the idea that new gun controls would prevent future tragedies. 

“We shouldn’t be banning guns from law-abiding citizens,” Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFive GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Trump walks back criticism of UK Brexit strategy | McConnell worries US in 'early stages' of trade war | US trade deficit with China hits new record Tampons sent to Dem who called for free feminine hygiene products in House MORE (R-Wis.) said after the incident.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpReporters defend CNN's Acosta after White House says he 'disrespected' Trump with question Security costs of Trump visit to Scotland sparks outrage among Scottish citizens Ex-CIA officer: Prosecution of Russians indicted for DNC hack 'ain't ever going to happen' MORE thrust himself into the middle of the debate late last month, when he hosted a televised meeting of bipartisan lawmakers at the White House. During the gathering, Trump seemed to endorse a number of gun controls — including expanded background checks and an increase in the age to buy a rifle — while accusing the Republicans of cowering to the NRA at the expense of public safety. 

“They have great power over you people; they have less power over me,” Trump said. “Some of you people are petrified of the NRA; you can’t be petrified.” 

On Sunday, however, Trump introduced his own legislative response to the Stoneman Douglas shooting, in which he walked back all of the new gun controls he appeared to endorse just a few weeks earlier. The increase in the age to buy certain weapons, for instance, simply doesn’t have much political backing, he explained.

“On 18 to 21 Age Limits, watching court cases and rulings before acting,” Trump tweeted Monday. “States are making this decision. Things are moving rapidly on this, but not much political support (to put it mildly).”

Hoyer had another explanation for why Trump changed his tune since endorsing the tougher gun laws, particularly the age hike.

“It’s obvious the NRA didn’t like it, so he’s backed off it,” Hoyer said. “Sad.”