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 HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary 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) ManchinSenate Democrats to House: Tamp down the impeachment talk The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Senate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats 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 FeinsteinFive takeaways from Barr's new powers in 'spying' probe Senate Democrats to House: Tamp down the impeachment talk Feinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report 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 HeitkampOn The Money: Stocks sink on Trump tariff threat | GOP caught off guard by new trade turmoil | Federal deficit grew 38 percent this fiscal year | Banks avoid taking position in Trump, Dem subpoena fight Fight over Trump's new NAFTA hits key stretch Former senators launching effort to help Dems win rural votes 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 BaldwinWarren vows to fight 'tooth and nail' for LGBTQ protections as president This week: House to vote on bill to ban LGBTQ discrimination Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to border wall | Dems blast move | House Dem pushes Pelosi to sue over Trump's Yemen veto MORE (Wis.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOn The Money: Judge upholds House subpoena for Trump financial records | Trump vows to appeal ruling by 'Obama-appointed judge' | Canada, Mexico lift retaliatory tariffs on US | IRS audit rate falls Lawmakers grapple with the future of America's workforce The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Restrictive state abortion laws ignite fiery 2020 debate MORE (Ohio), Robert CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick Casey2020 Dems put spotlight on disabilities issues Why Congress needs to bring back tax deduction for worker expenses Biden cements spot as 2020 front-runner MORE (Pa.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Obama honors 'American statesman' Richard Lugar Former GOP senator Richard Lugar dies at 87 MORE (Ind.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillCongress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Lobbying world Big Dem names show little interest in Senate MORE (Mo.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonRepublicans amp up attacks on Tlaib's Holocaust comments The muscle for digital payment Rubio says hackers penetrated Florida elections systems MORE (Fla.), Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowCongress: Support legislation to defend Medicare home health  Dems want climate change, tax hikes in infrastructure deal Critics accuse EPA of weakening pollution rule for Pentagon MORE (Mich.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterThreat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Overnight Defense: Trump officials say efforts to deter Iran are working | Trump taps new Air Force secretary | House panel passes defense bill that limits border wall funds GOP angst grows amid Trump trade war 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 AyotteSinema, Gallagher fastest lawmakers in charity race New Hampshire senator to ask 2020 Dems to back repeal of state residency law Schultz recruiting GOP insiders ahead of possible 2020 bid 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 SchumerNo agreement on budget caps in sight ahead of Memorial Day recess Ex-White House photographer roasts Trump: 'This is what a cover up looked like' under Obama Pelosi: Trump 'is engaged in a cover-up' 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 CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Bipartisan House bill calls for strategy to protect 5G networks from foreign threats Collins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' 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 MarkeyHillicon Valley: Assange hit with 17 more charges | Facebook removes record 2.2B fake profiles | Senate passes anti-robocall bill | Senators offer bill to help companies remove Huawei equipment Senate passes anti-robocall bill The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi fires back in feud with Trump 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.