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-PowellProgressive Latino group launches first incumbent protection campaign Hispanic Democrats announce 'Latina Prosperity Principles' Gun epidemic is personal for lawmakers touched by violence 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 HoyerLawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms The Hill's 12:30 Report: Former Ukraine envoy offers dramatic testimony Hoyer calls GOP efforts to out whistleblower 'despicable' MORE (D-Md.) told reporters.

Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinHarris introduces bill to prevent California wildfires Senate Democrats introduce Violence Against Women Act after bipartisan talks break down Harris shares video addressing staffers the night Trump was elected: 'This is some s---' MORE (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Turkish media paints White House visit as Erdoğan triumph over Trump Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators at White House 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 McConnellLawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms Impeachment battle looms over must-pass defense bill 'Saturday Night Live' presents Trump impeachment hearings with 'pizzazz' of soap opera 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 StefanikImpeachment hearings likely to get worse for Republicans Trump labels Stefanik a 'new Republican Star' Five takeaways from ex-ambassador's dramatic testimony 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 MillerGOP women's super PAC blasts 'out of touch' candidate in NC runoff GOP amps up efforts to recruit women candidates Kerry goes after Trump over climate on Capitol Hill MORE (R-W.Va.) said during the bill’s initial House floor debate on Wednesday.

Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellDemocrats demand FCC act over leak of phone location data Democratic lawmakers, 2020 candidates pay tribute to Conyers Hillicon Valley: Facebook launches 'News Tab' | Senate passes bill to take on 'deepfakes' | Schumer outlines vision for electric cars 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. FitzpatrickHillicon Valley: Critics press feds to block Google, Fitbit deal | Twitter takes down Hamas, Hezbollah-linked accounts | TikTok looks to join online anti-terrorism effort | Apple pledges .5B to affordable housing Twitter takes down Hamas, Hezbollah-affiliated accounts after lawmaker pressure GOP lawmakers express concerns about Giuliani's work in Ukraine 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 CicillineHillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day Top antitrust Dem presses DOJ, FTC on Google's Fitbit acquisition Hillicon Valley: California AG reveals Facebook investigation | McConnell criticizes Twitter's political ad ban | Lawmakers raise concerns over Google takeover of Fitbit | Dem pushes FCC to secure 5G networks MORE (D-R.I.) said. “We’re going to keep doing the work that we committed to delivering on.”