Five factors that will determine gun control debate

The spate of mass shootings in Ohio, Texas and California have rattled the country and lit a fire under lawmakers who say something must be done in Washington to stop the slaughter of innocent Americans.   

Democrats see their best chance in years to push universal background checks and other gun reforms past the finish line. Republicans have also suggested a new openness to background checks, and have signaled support for “red flag” legislation to help states pass laws allowing the confiscation of guns from people deemed a threat.

{mosads}Still, there are many competing interests and moving parts, and no one can be certain at this moment in time whether the two parties and President Trump will be able to come together to pass historic gun legislation. 

Here are five factors that could determine how far the effort goes.

Public sentiment 

Every high-profile mass shooting in the past decade has sparked a national movement to enact gun reforms. 

Parents of the elementary school children killed in 2012 in Newtown, Conn., came close to securing background checks legislation, but fell six votes short in the Senate. The 2017 Las Vegas massacre — the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history, with 58 fatalities — led to the Trump administration banning so-called bump stocks, but no legislative movement. 

And last year’s high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., launched a new generation of teenage activists responsible for huge rallies and viral social media hashtags but few tangible changes.

But now, gun reform activists think they’ve found an opening with public outrage growing over two mass shootings within a 24-hour span in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas — the latter where the gunman reportedly said he was targeting Hispanics. Earlier that week, a gunman had opened fire at a food festival in Gilroy, Calif., killing three and injuring others.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican and usual National Rifle Association (NRA) ally, endorsed background checks and red flag legislation just a day after a crowd of fed-up mourners at a vigil repeatedly shouted at him to “Do something! Do Something!”

Roughly 90 percent of Americans already support expanded background checks, polls show.  

With more and more Americans and U.S. communities — Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Newtown, Charleston, Orlando, San Bernardino, Las Vegas, Gilroy, El Paso, Dayton — grappling with mass shootings, grief and sadness is giving way to anger and frustration at the gridlock in Washington, and especially with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“Call the Senate back into session. Get people moving. You can maybe move some Republicans on this because of the tragedies. And you’re going to do nothing and we’re going to be sitting here again a few weeks, a few months from now holding parents in our arms that are crying saying, why did this happen again in the United States?” Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said on CNN last week. 

“Enough, Mitch McConnell. Get off your ass and get something done.”

President Trump and Mitch McConnell 

When it comes to the gun debate this summer, the two top leaders of the Republican Party are wild cards who will have enormous sway over whether anything moves through the Senate and ultimately to the president’s desk.

Among Democrats, there is heavy skepticism that either Trump or McConnell truly wants to get something done on guns, with both needing their conservative base to turn out and help them win reelection in 2020.

Trump, in tweets and public remarks, has repeatedly urged Congress to take action on background checks. On Friday, he said those reforms should be “intelligent” and “meaningful,” adding that he had spoken with congressional leaders, including McConnell, whom he described as “totally on board.”

McConnell, however, has not pledged to support any specific gun proposals yet. In an interview with Kentucky radio station WHAS a day earlier, McConnell said the bipartisan background checks bill authored by Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), as well as red flags legislation, will be “front and center” in the coming Senate debate on guns.

“Background checks and red flags would probably lead the discussion, but a lot of other things will come up as well. What we can’t do is fail to pass something,” McConnell told WHAS.

National Rifle Association 

As with every push for gun reform, the elephant in the room is the NRA. 

The powerful Second Amendment rights group and its longtime CEO, Wayne LaPierre, have faced months of front-page scandals and high-profile resignations, putting the organization in a weakened position. Just last week, The Washington Post reported that LaPierre pushed the NRA to buy him a $6 million mansion at a Dallas golf community.

But in the wake of the mass shootings, the NRA proved that it and its millions of members across the country still have enormous sway with Trump and the GOP. 

After Trump endorsed the bipartisan idea of expanding background checks for all firearms purchases, LaPierre called Trump and warned that the idea would be unpopular with his base heading into his 2020 reelection bid, the Post reported.

And there has been no stampede of new GOP senators signing onto the bipartisan Toomey-Manchin bill.

In a statement, LaPierre stated the NRA’s opposition to beefing up background checks laws or taking up more narrow red flags legislation.

“I can confirm that the NRA opposes any legislation that unfairly infringes upon the rights of law-abiding citizens,” LaPierre said. “The inconvenient truth is this: the proposals being discussed by many would not have prevented the horrific tragedies in El Paso and Dayton.” 

“Worse, they would make millions of law-abiding Americans less safe and less able to defend themselves and their loved ones.” 


House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has jurisdiction over federal gun laws and will be part of any bipartisan negotiations on gun reforms.

But the powerful New York Democrat has his mind focused elsewhere for the moment: Nadler has been aggressively trying to push his party closer and closer to launching an impeachment inquiry into Trump — something backed by more than half of the 235 House Democrats.

In the middle of the gun debate last week, Nadler took to CNN and declared: “This is formal impeachment proceedings.” 

It marked the first time Nadler had plainly stated that Judiciary’s planned hearings and court filings seeking information from Trump allies amounted to a “formal” impeachment investigation. And it raised additional questions about whether the president, who has a penchant for lashing out at his critics, would be willing to hammer out a deal on guns with top Democrats trying to remove him from office.

Nadler is far from the only House Democrat publicly criticizing Trump in harsh terms.

“There ought to be radical Democrats and Republicans who are willing to rise to the occasion and say to this president, ‘You are unfit, unworthy, and you must be removed from office.’ We will not wait until the next election because we don’t know how much carnage you will have caused to occur in the interim. We cannot wait. We ought to act as soon as we can to get him out of office. He has long since served his time and he should be removed from office,” Rep. Al Green, a Texas Democrat who has led the impeachment push, told CNN.

“I will work with anyone on measures to end gun violence. And in working with him I will not back off my position that he should be impeached. If he is willing to work with me knowing that I will continue to work to impeach him, I will do it.”


In the chaotic Trump era, one week can seem like a long time; the monthlong summer congressional recess will seem like an eternity. And there’s no telling what might happen during that period, between now and when Congress returns to Washington on Sept. 9.

It’s a big reason why Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats have been pressuring McConnell to call back the Senate to take up the House-passed background checks bill. 

Democrats want to seize on the moment, while the shootings are still fresh in the minds of Americans and the media. The long, drawn-out recess could sap momentum for new gun laws, and allow opponents like the NRA to mobilize their allies inside and outside of the Capitol to halt the effort.

And McConnell rejected Pelosi’s request for him to bring the Senate back early, saying a full debate will happen on guns next month.

“If we did that, we would just have people scoring points and nothing would happen. There has to be a bipartisan discussion here of what we can agree on,” McConnell said in the radio interview.  “If we do it prematurely it will just be another frustrating experience.” 

Tags Al Green Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Gun control gun violence Jerrold Nadler Joe Manchin Mass shootings Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Pat Toomey Tim Ryan
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