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 rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada 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) ManchinThe Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh McCaskill to oppose Kavanaugh nomination The Memo: Kavanaugh firestorm consumes political world 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's office says it has received threats over Kavanaugh Dem senator praises Ford opening the door to testifying The chaos in the Kavanaugh nomination illustrates the high stakes of the Supreme Court 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 HeitkampThe Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh McCaskill to oppose Kavanaugh nomination Election Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls 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 BaldwinDems seek to rebuild blue wall in Rust Belt contests The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — The Hill interviews President Trump Poll: Democrats inch forward in Wisconsin MORE (Wis.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownElection Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan group wants to lift Medicaid restriction on substance abuse treatment MORE (Ohio), Robert CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyObama to hit campaign trail in Pa. for gubernatorial, Senate candidates Trump is wrong, Dems are fighting to save Medicare and Social Security Five biggest surprises in midterm fight MORE (Pa.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyThe Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh McCaskill to oppose Kavanaugh nomination The Memo: Kavanaugh firestorm consumes political world MORE (Ind.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada Google says senators' Gmail accounts targeted by foreign hackers MORE (Mo.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — The Hill interviews President Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report — Kavanaugh controversy consumes Washington | Kavanaugh slated to testify Monday | Allegations shake up midterms Florida governor booed out of restaurant over red tide algae issues MORE (Fla.), Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowCongress prepares to punt biggest political battles until after midterms Trump attacks Dems on farm bill Trump is wrong, Dems are fighting to save Medicare and Social Security MORE (Mich.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterTrump Jr. campaign event looks for new venue after Montana restaurant declines to host CBS Poll: Missouri, Montana Senate races in dead heats Dems play waiting game with Collins and Murkowski 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 AyotteGOP mulls having outside counsel question Kavanaugh, Ford Pallbearers, speakers announced for McCain's DC memorial service and Capitol ceremony Tributes pour in for John McCain 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 SchumerTrump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump slams Sessions in exclusive Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh accuser wants FBI investigation 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 CornynKey GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Trump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle GOP mulls having outside counsel question Kavanaugh, Ford 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 MarkeyOvernight Defense: Mattis dismisses talk he may be leaving | Polish president floats 'Fort Trump' | Dem bill would ban low-yield nukes Dems introduce bill to ban low-yield nukes Some employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report 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.