House panel advances anti-gun violence legislation

House panel advances anti-gun violence legislation
© Getty Images

The House Judiciary Committee advanced legislation on Tuesday to prevent high-risk people from having guns and ban high-capacity ammunition magazines as Democrats seek to dial up pressure on Senate Republicans to respond to a string of mass shootings this summer.

House Democrats moved swiftly to advance three gun control measures after returning from a six-week summer recess, during which a series of mass shootings left dozens of people dead in Gilroy, Calif.; Dayton, Ohio; El Paso, Texas; and Odessa, Texas.

The Judiciary Committee advanced all three measures along party lines.

The first bill would authorize grants incentivizing states to establish so-called "red flag" laws that allow family members or law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily take away a gun from a person considered a threat to themselves or others. Another measure would prohibit people convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes from possessing firearms.

The third bill would ban magazines with a capacity of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

Multiple members of the committee have personally lost family members to gun violence or represent communities affected by recent mass shootings.

"I know the pain of losing a child to gun violence," said freshman Rep. Lucy McBathLucia (Lucy) Kay McBathDemocrats will win back the Senate majority in 2020, all thanks to President Trump How centrist Dems learned to stop worrying and love impeachment DACA student at Yale petitions to protect mother recovering with cancer from deportation MORE (D-Ga.), whose son was shot and killed in 2012. "And not anyone in this room, anyone in this country, should ever be faced with that pain."

"Inaction is unacceptable. And today we are acting to help those in crisis," McBath said.

The bill to prohibit high-capacity magazines was first introduced in February by Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchBipartisan Senate climate caucus grows by six members GOP Rep. Gaetz calls for ethics investigation into Schiff Ethics to investigate Guam delegate over alleged sexual relationship with staff member MORE (D-Fla.), whose district includes Parkland, Fla., where 17 people died in a 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Deutch noted that the Parkland shooter fired more than 150 rounds in six minutes.

"If this gunman was limited to ten-round magazines, some of those students may have survived that horrible day," Deutch said. "We need to act today so that we don't keep breaking the record for the next worst mass shooting in American history."

Republicans on the panel voted against the red-flag measure after offering a string of amendments over the course of more than two hours, citing concerns about due process for people considered high risk.

"I stand ready to work with you on sensible solutions that actually could prevent these atrocities," said Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsGOP lawmaker: Schiff should be first witness Republicans call to testify in impeachment inquiry Hillicon Valley: Google buying Fitbit for .1B | US launches national security review of TikTok | Twitter shakes up fight over political ads | Dems push committee on 'revenge porn' law Progressives urge end to mass phone data collection program MORE (Ga.), the panel's top Republican. "What I am not willing to do is support legislation that will not do anything to make us safer and simultaneously infringes on the rights and liberties guaranteed by our Constitution."

Collins argued that the legislation should do more to address what's driving people to be considered a risk to society.

"It does nothing to address the person's possible illnesses or instabilities, even though the court has just determined him or her dangerous enough to be stripped of a fundamental constitutional right. I suppose we should all just hope and pray such dangerous individuals don't have access to any other things that would allow them to harm themselves. If they do, then this is sort of a waste of time," Collins said.

Tuesday’s vote comes as Democrats push for action on a bill to expand background checks in the GOP-led Senate, but lawmakers are struggling to move legislation forward without a signal from President TrumpDonald John TrumpThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Judd Gregg: The big, big and bigger problem MORE as to what he'd be willing to sign into law.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Progressive veterans group launches campaign labeling Trump as a 'national security threat' GOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week MORE (R-Ky.) reiterated Tuesday -- the first full day back in session from the lengthy summer recess -- that he is waiting for the White House to offer a proposal before making a decision on how to proceed with gun-related measures.

A bipartisan group of senators has been in discussions with the White House about gun legislation, but Trump has sent mixed signals in recent weeks about what he might support.

"They are working on coming up with a proposal that the president will sign. Until that happens, all of this is theatrics,” McConnell said after a Senate GOP lunch with Eric Ueland, director of the White House’s Office of Legislative Affairs.

McConnell said it would be a futile exercise to move forward without a sense of what Trump would sign into law.

“So we do in fact await word from the White House about what the president is willing to sign. That's important to a lot of my members. It also, at the risk of repeating a history lesson, is the only way we will get a law,” McConnell said.

Democrats also plan to hold a hearing Sept. 25 on an assault weapons ban. But the bill's sponsor, Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineHillicon 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 Critics fear Google's power in Fitbit deal Google to acquire Fitbit for .1 billion MORE (D-R.I.), acknowledged the legislation doesn't yet have the votes to pass.

Cicilline’s bill to ban assault weapons currently has 211 cosponsors, which is seven short of the 218 votes needed to pass on the House floor.

Most of the Democratic holdouts on the bill hail from competitive swing districts where gun restrictions may be less popular.

“So we're not at 218 yet, but we're making progress,” Cicilline said.

Still, public polling shows majority support for an assault weapons ban, in addition to more widespread approval of proposals like the bills advanced by the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released Tuesday found that 57 percent of respondents support banning the sale of assault weapons.

Slightly more -- 61 percent -- back the idea of banning high-capacity magazines, while 72 percent support allowing police or family members to request a judge temporarily take away guns from a person considered a danger to themselves or others.

A total of 83 percent support requiring background checks at gun shows and other private sales. House Democrats passed a bill earlier this year to establish universal background checks -- including at gun shows and private sales -- but that bill has since languished in the Senate.

Rep. Mike ThompsonCharles (Mike) Michael ThompsonSenate rejects Dem measure to overturn IRS rules on SALT deduction cap Here are the Democrats who aren't co-sponsoring an assault weapons ban House panel advances anti-gun violence legislation MORE (D-Calif.), chairman of the Democrats' task force on gun violence prevention, all but dismissed the Senate efforts to draft new gun bills, seeking instead to keep the pressure on McConnell to take up the House-passed background check expansion. 

"What we have to do at this point is get the Senate to take up and pass the background check bill," Thompson said. "That bill saves lives right away. You don't have to do any more than that."

Mike Lillis contributed.

Updated: 9:59 p.m.