Gun control proposals face big hurdles in the Senate
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) says he wants Republicans to work with Democrats to pass bipartisan gun control legislation — but the proposals under consideration face significant hurdles, and the likelihood of success is small.
Schumer initially on Wednesday said most Republicans are so set against proposals to expand background checks or otherwise limit access to firearms that he doesn’t think it would be a productive use of Senate time to bring legislation to the floor in response to the mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas.
Later in the day, Schumer said he would allow votes on gun control-related amendments to a domestic terrorism bill that’s coming to the floor Thursday.
But Republicans say they will block the bill from proceeding, which means gun control-related votes are unlikely before the Memorial Day recess.
Schumer has come under pressure from progressives to put Republicans on the record by forcing votes on expanded background checks and other reforms.
“I’m always in favor of putting people on the record. We don’t have a single Republican vote for any movement on gun safety, and in the wake of what happened this week in Texas and last week in New York, I think Republicans ought to own up to their shameful, extremist position,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a leading progressive.
Schumer acknowledged the pressure in earlier comments on Wednesday in which he criticized GOP senators for inaction on gun control.
“There are some who want this body to quickly vote on sensible gun safety legislation. … They want to see this body to vote quickly, so the American people can know which side each senator is on,” he said. “But, sadly, this isn’t a case of the American people not knowing where their senators stand. They know.”
“They know because my Republican colleagues are perfectly clear on this issue. Crystal clear. Republicans don’t pretend that they support sensible gun safety legislation,” he added.
The two leading proposals now under discussion are expanded background checks and so-called red flag procedures to take guns away from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key centrist, told reporters Wednesday that he sees red flag legislation as an issue that could attract bipartisan support.
“We talked about the red flag. It’s worked. It’s works in states such as Florida. It’s been very effective,” he said.
He also cited expanded background checks as “something that doesn’t infringe” on gun owners’ rights.
Bolder ideas to ban assault-style rifles — something President Biden endorsed last week — or to prohibit high-capacity magazines aren’t getting any serious discussion.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Tuesday said she hadn’t made a decision about whether to push for a vote on her signature issue, a ban on assault-style weapons, which she got enacted into law from 1994 to 2004.
Feinstein introduced a new assault weapons ban in March of last year.
A House-passed bill to expand the period for reviewing firearm sales to 10 days, a response to the 2015 shooting at a Charleston, S.C., church, has been largely ignored.
The relatively mainstream idea of expanding background checks, which several senators pointed to on Wednesday as one of the most likely reforms, still faces a tough path in the Senate.
Manchin said last year that he didn’t support a House-passed bill to require background checks for all firearm sales.
Instead, Manchin last week pitched the bill he negotiated in 2013 with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and with input from the National Rifle Association to expand background checks but exempt sales and transfers between friends and families.
But Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a leading Senate gun control advocate, on Tuesday rejected that bill — as originally drafted — as insufficient.
“Manchin-Toomey is not just a background checks bill. It’s got lots of sweeteners in it designed to get the NRA’s support,” he said.
“You can’t do Manchin-Toomey, but you could do a commercial background checks bill. That’s something that would get bipartisan support,” he added.
Toomey told The Hill last week that he did not see a clear legislative path for Manchin-Toomey.
“I still support the policy. The political path forward is not obvious to me,” he said.
Toomey is one of only two Republicans currently in the Senate who voted for Manchin-Toomey when lawmakers considered it in 2013 in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) cast the other “yes” vote.
So far, however, no other Republican has stepped forward to endorse expanded background-check requirements.
Red flag legislation is emerging as a more promising option given longstanding partisan disagreements over expanding background checks.
Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Angus King (I-Maine) introduced legislation last year to direct Department of Justice funds to encourage states to set up procedures similar to Florida’s to prevent individuals who pose a threat to the community from purchasing firearms.
And Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) also has a bill with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), though they haven’t yet introduced it this Congress, to encourage states to set up red flag laws.
But some Republicans such as Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who usually fall within the group of possible GOP “yes” votes when a bipartisan bill is seeking 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, both raised concerns over red flag legislation.
“I have a concern with existing red flag laws. If I’m not mistaken, New York has one and it didn’t stop the tragedy in Buffalo,” Tillis said.
Tillis said Schumer’s decision to put the two House-passed bills to expand background checks on the Senate calendar would chill the negotiations.
“It’s going to be very difficult to even have anybody enter a room when you have Leader Schumer laying two bills coming from the House, because that sounds like a political stunt and less of a sincere interest in having a conversation and an outcome,” Tillis said.
“I would not support a federal mandate for red flag. I do believe you can create a framework that would encourage [state] legislators to consider it,” he said.