Dems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada

Dems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada
© Greg Nash

Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds MORE (Nev.), considered the most vulnerable Republican senator up for reelection next year, will be at the center of a new fight over gun control following the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday that left at least 59 people dead.

Democrats and liberal activists plan to scrutinize Heller’s record on gun control and his co-sponsorship of a controversial bill to deregulate suppressors as they seek to win his Senate seat in 2018.

Critics are already zeroing in on Heller’s vote against popular legislation to expand background checks and limit ownership of assault rifles in 2013. They are also looking at his support for Senate Bill 59, which would ease regulations on suppressors, and Senate Bill 446, which would expand the right to carry concealed firearms.

“When we’re done grieving, I think it’s time to bring up the issue that certain politics are killing people in the United States,” said Maria-Teresa Liebermann, the deputy director of Battle Born Progress, a progressive advocacy group based in Clark County, Nev.

“People not taking action on extended background checks, people constantly blocking any type of progress that we end gun violence,” she added.

Heller on Monday flew back to his home state, missing afternoon votes and leaving colleagues uncertain about his return. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) also canceled events in Washington and flew back home Monday.

Heller spoke to Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) and state Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt (R) early Monday morning, thanked police and first responders and urged people in Las Vegas to donate blood to help treat the more than 500 wounded or injured in the shooting.

“I will continue to monitor the situation as this horrific event unfolds. Lynne and I are praying for all of the victims and their families who are experiencing immense pain and grave, shocking loss that cannot be measured,” he said in a statement Monday, referring to his wife.

Heller joined most Republicans in voting in April of 2013 against bipartisan legislation sponsored by Sens. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyOvernight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race MORE (R-Pa.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Energy: Trump ends talks with California on car emissions | Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal | Climate PAC backing Inslee in possible 2020 run Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal Gabbard cites ‘concerns’ about ‘vagueness’ of Green New Deal MORE (D-W.Va.) to expand background checks.

A poll from October showed that 58 percent of respondents in Nevada supported expanded background checks, while only 32 percent opposed the idea.

Nevada voters passed a ballot initiative known as Question One last year that expanded background checks for private-party gun sales. Laxalt, however, has declined to implement the initiative because he says the FBI will not conduct the checks through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

“Gun violence has been a big issue here in Nevada,” said Liebermann. “It’s been addressed here locally and it’s not being enforced.”

The ballot initiative passed by a margin of 50.4 percent to 49.6.

Heller also opposed an amendment drafted by Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFeinstein says she thinks Biden will run after meeting with him Trump judicial nominee Neomi Rao seeks to clarify past remarks on date rape Bottom Line MORE (D-Calif.) to regulate rifles with military styling and another sponsored by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) to curb high-capacity magazines.

While Democrats think gun control could be a winning issue for them in some states, it also poses some political risks to the party.

Democrats are defending more than two-dozen seats in 2018, including 10 in states won by President Trump last year.

Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary On The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction MORE (N.D.), one of those 10 Democrats, voted with Heller in 2013 against expanding background checks.

Most of the other nine Democrats, however, backed the measure sponsored by Manchin, who himself faces reelection next year in a state where Trump is popular.

Democratic Sens. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinKlobuchar, O'Rourke visit Wisconsin as 2020 race heats up Dems offer smaller step toward ‘Medicare for all' Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by America's 340B Hospitals — Powerful House committee turns to drug pricing | Utah governor defies voters on Medicaid expansion | Dems want answers on controversial new opioid MORE (Wis.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownHarry Reid says he won’t make 2020 endorsement until after Nevada caucus Overnight Energy: Trump ends talks with California on car emissions | Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal | Climate PAC backing Inslee in possible 2020 run Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal MORE (Ohio), Robert CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyGOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate Biden speaking to Dems on Capitol Hill as 2020 speculation mounts: report GOP senators: Trump should not declare border emergency during State of the Union MORE (Pa.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks MORE (Ind.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillPoll: 33% of Kentucky voters approve of McConnell McCaskill: Lindsey Graham 'has lost his mind' Trey Gowdy joins Fox News as a contributor MORE (Mo.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William Nelson2020 party politics in Puerto Rico There is no winning without Latinos as part of your coalition Dem 2020 candidates court Puerto Rico as long nomination contest looms MORE (Fla.), Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowLand conservation tax incentives should inspire charitable giving, not loopholes Four names emerge for UN position: report Democrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal MORE (Mich.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterOvernight Energy: Trump ends talks with California on car emissions | Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal | Climate PAC backing Inslee in possible 2020 run Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal How the border deal came together MORE (Mont.) all voted for the background checks legislation.

While Congress has made little progress in passing gun control bills in recent years, and even has appeared more inclined to loosen existing regulations, Democratic leaders think the politics of the issue are changing.

Democrats knocked former Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteUS, allies must stand in united opposition to Iran’s bad behavior American military superiority will fade without bold national action Five possible successors to Mattis MORE (R-N.H.) out of office last year by attacking votes she cast against expanded background checks in 2013 and 2016.

Four years ago, Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats National emergency declaration — a legal fight Trump is likely to win House Judiciary Dems seek answers over Trump's national emergency declaration MORE (N.Y.) said the country was on the verge of a “turning point” on gun control after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He said data showed voters “even in redder states” want “common sense measures.”

“We should continue to take these legislators to task, and if they vote the wrong way, like Kelly Ayotte, they’re going to be held accountable for those votes,” said Christian Heyne, legislative director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

Heyne criticized Heller for what he called “a storied history of irresponsible votes and co-sponsorships,” citing his votes against gun control measures in 2013 and his co-sponsorship this year of bills deregulating suppressors and concealed firearms.

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynInviting Kim Jong Un to Washington Trump endorses Cornyn for reelection as O'Rourke mulls challenge O’Rourke not ruling out being vice presidential candidate MORE (Texas), a co-sponsor of the gun suppressor bill and the sponsor of the measure loosening restrictions on concealed weapons, said it was unseemly for some Democrats to be looking ahead to the political fight over gun control.

“Politicizing this terrible tragedy is beyond disgusting and I think we ought to wait a respectful period of time out of respect for the people who lost their lives or who have been injured before we get into the push and push of politics around here,” he said. 

But Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyClimate hedgehogs and foxes Overnight Energy: Trump ends talks with California on car emissions | Dems face tough vote on Green New Deal | Climate PAC backing Inslee in possible 2020 run AOC's green deal isn't new — it's been a flop in Germany MORE (D-Mass.) pushed back on the idea that it was too soon.

“For anyone who says this debate is too soon, it’s already too late for at least 58 people in Las Vegas and hundreds of others who were wounded. We should not wait another day,” he said.