Dems vow to keep heat on GOP over guns

Dems vow to keep heat on GOP over guns
© Greg Nash

House Democrats are vowing to use Congress's long summer recess to ramp up the pressure on Republicans to address gun violence this year.

But how they plan to do so remains vague, raising immediate questions about the ultimate effectiveness of their campaign.


“If Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanBiden's debate game plan? Keep cool and win Trump, Biden have one debate goal: Don't lose RNC chair on election: We are on track to win the White House MORE's plan is to send his members to the comfort of their districts believing that they're not going to face pressure at home, he's got another thing coming,” Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), chairman of Democrats' campaign messaging committee, said Tuesday, referring to the House Speaker. “We're going to keep the heat on, if not here, then there.”

He did not offer specifics.

Democrats last month seized the House floor for more than a day to protest Congress's inaction on efforts to stem gun violence. It was an extraordinary political gamble that paid off, backing Republicans into a corner and forcing Ryan (R-Wis.) to take the rare step of offering a gun control bill of his own.

But even the GOP proposal lacked enough support to pass in the face of conservative opposition, and Congress is poised to leave Washington Friday for a seven-week recess without considering any related legislation. 

The Democrats say they'll keep pressing Republicans through the long break, particularly on proposals to require background checks on more gun purchases and prohibit sales to those on the FBI's terrorist watchlists. 

But they are returning to their own districts, where they'll largely be preaching to the choir. And while polls indicate broad bipartisan support for the two bills Democrats are pushing, Republicans have largely maintained their opposition without political repercussions, particularly within the safely conservative districts that most of them occupy. It's a dynamic that even some pro-gun control Democratic acknowledge.

“We've got a dilemma, a challenge, where you've got these gerrymandered districts, and a lot of these Republicans are representing a point of view that's pretty solid where they come from,” Rep. Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchShakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' Vermont Rep. Peter Welch easily wins primary Vermont has a chance to show how bipartisanship can tackle systemic racism MORE (D-Vt.) told The Hill this month.

Following a string of recent high-profile shootings, Democrats are hoping to change those dynamics. Their sit-in last month — a response to a shooting massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. — was led by civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and dominated an entire news cycle. 

More recent shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas, all involving police, have only shined a brighter light on the nation's gun violence problem. And Democrats are vowing action throughout the long recess to ensure the light doesn't dim ahead of the elections. 

Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) said much of the pressure campaign will hinge on the work of outside activists operating in Republican districts. 

“We do what we do, but they're also the cavalry, and they need to put the pressure on,” she said. 

Kelly said an Illinois group is already eying a visit to Ryan in his Wisconsin district. But she also acknowledged that the most convincing pressure must come from constituents in GOP districts.

“I know we say 90 percent of Americans want this, but they need to hear from their constituents,” she said. “We need to flood their phones, send postcards, whatever we need to do to put the pressure on them.”

Israel said the fuel behind the campaign will come from both the Democratic Party and outside groups. But much of the strategy remains unscripted, he said.

“Some of these things will be done spontaneously by individual groups. Some will be part of our message rollout, organized by the Democratic Caucus,” Israel said. “But a vast majority of this is just going to take its own course. 

“This issue is so resonant that you don't actually need a maestro conducting the orchestra,” he added. “Everybody's playing by themselves.”

With the House scheduled to be in Washington for four weeks in September — and many predicting that even that window will be cut short — few are expecting GOP leaders to act on gun violence legislation before the elections. Instead, Democrats are increasingly looking beyond November, hopeful that the issue will play a large enough role at the polls to break Congress's long-standing impasse.

“If we have somebody for sensible gun-safety measures defeat" a Republican opposed to gun control,” Welch said. “I think that's the best signal to the Republicans that they've got to change.”