Dem gun efforts run into Senate GOP bulwark

Democratic efforts to pass new gun restrictions in the early months of their new majority are running repeatedly into obstacles from the GOP-controlled Senate.

The latest fight concerns the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which contains a provision to ensure that people convicted of stalking or abusing their dating partners — rather than only spouses or family members — cannot own guns.


The National Rifle Association’s (NRA) opposition to the provision is unlikely to affect House passage of the bill on Thursday. But it increases the likelihood it won’t be part of a final measure to reauthorize VAWA that must also pass muster in the Senate, where NRA-friendly Republicans hold the majority.

House Democrats also passed a bill earlier this year to require universal background checks for gun purchases, a top legislative priority, that has yet to receive action in the Senate.

The gridlock underscores the challenges for gun reform.

Freshman Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-PowellDebbie Mucarsel-PowellHispanic Caucus members embark on 'virtual bus tour' with Biden campaign Florida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum Mucarsel-Powell, Giménez to battle for Florida swing district MORE (D-Fla.), a gun safety advocate who lost her father to gun violence, said it would be hard for Democrats to accept a VAWA measure without the provision opposed by the NRA.

“I doubt that we’ll take that version if it’s not included,” she said.

VAWA programs have been in limbo since late December as a result of the government shutdown. A bill to reopen the government a month later did not include an extension of the law, since House Democrats wanted to push for their bill that expands the current law’s scope.

“Our calculation was, we’re in charge now, we can pass the bill that we think is a comprehensive bill to protect all women,” House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse Democrats postpone vote on marijuana decriminalization bill Democrats scramble on COVID-19 relief amid division, Trump surprise The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep MORE (D-Md.) told reporters.

Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinMcConnell says Trump nominee to replace Ginsburg will get Senate vote Top Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence Intensifying natural disasters do little to move needle on climate efforts MORE (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstWhat Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies Chamber of Commerce endorses McSally for reelection Senators offer disaster tax relief bill MORE (R-Iowa) are working on their own proposal to reauthorize VAWA. Ernst’s office said that she has concerns that the gun provision in House Democrats’ bill doesn’t ensure due process.

Republicans in both chambers are pushing for a simple extension of current VAWA programs. The Senate rejected a GOP amendment to a disaster aid bill on Monday that included an extension of VAWA through September.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellObama calls on Senate not to fill Ginsburg's vacancy until after election Planned Parenthood: 'The fate of our rights' depends on Ginsburg replacement Progressive group to spend M in ad campaign on Supreme Court vacancy MORE (R-Ky.) voted for that measure on Monday. He has not given any indication that the Senate would take up the House version once it passes the lower chamber.

In the House, GOP leaders back legislation introduced by Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikRepublicans cast Trump as best choice for women The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Pence rips Biden as radical risk GOP women offer personal testimonials on Trump MORE (R-N.Y.) to renew VAWA programs through March 2020.

Beyond the gun provision, Republicans also oppose language expanding protections for transgender people, including requiring the Bureau of Prisons to require prisons to house transgender people based on the gender they identify with.

“It is not the time to hold the safety of women as a bargaining chip against infringements on religious liberty or weakening of the Second Amendment,” Rep. Carol MillerCarol Devine MillerPartial disengagement based on democratic characteristics: A new era of US-China economic relations The Hill's Coronavirus Report: CDC predicts US death toll could reach 145,000 by July 11; Premier President Michael Alkire says more resiliency needed in health supply chain Shelley Moore Capito wins Senate primary MORE (R-W.Va.) said during the bill’s initial House floor debate on Wednesday.

Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellRaces heat up for House leadership posts Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell easily wins House primary Court orders release of Black Michigan teen who was jailed for missing schoolwork MORE (D-Mich.) originally authored the measure to expand the gun restrictions to people who abuse their dating partners as a separate bill and secured its inclusion in the VAWA legislation.

She cites her own story of living with an abusive and mentally unstable father who had a gun.

“If we are doing a Violence Against Women Act and we are trying to save lives, why would you not close a simple loophole that says if someone has been convicted — convicted, not accused, convicted — of domestic violence or stalking, that they not have access to a gun,” Dingell said at a press event on Wednesday.

Asked if the provision was a VAWA “poison pill,” Dingell said: “You know what, sometimes things are as simple as this: I know that fear. I know that terror. And I just want to try to save another family from going though that terror.”

This is the first time that the NRA is scoring a vote on reauthorizing VAWA, since it’s the first time the legislation has included measures pertaining to guns.

The NRA argues that the bill is too broad with overly subjective terms, such as including former dating partners. It also objects to permanently preventing people convicted of misdemeanor stalking offenses from having guns, arguing that such offenses may not necessarily include violent or threatening behavior.

“The gun control lobby and anti-gun politicians are intentionally politicizing the Violence Against Women Act as a smokescreen to push their gun control agenda. It’s appalling that the gun control lobby and anti-gun politicians are trivializing the serious issue of domestic violence,” NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said.

So far only one House Republican has co-sponsored the Democratic bill to renew VAWA: Rep. Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickFlorida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum DCCC reserves new ad buys in competitive districts, adds new members to 'Red to Blue' program 2020 Global Tiger Day comes with good news, but Congress still has work to do MORE (R-Pa.). Fitzpatrick, a centrist, was also among just eight Republicans to vote for Democrats’ universal background check legislation.

Despite the GOP resistance, Democrats said they’ll press on with further gun reforms.

“I think unfortunately we’re going to see more of this as we move forward on our entire For the People agenda,” Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineClark rolls out endorsements in assistant Speaker race Races heat up for House leadership posts The folly of Cicilline's 'Glass-Steagall for Tech' MORE (D-R.I.) said. “We’re going to keep doing the work that we committed to delivering on.”