Dems face pressure from left on gun control
Democrats are under pressure from a resurgent left that wants tough gun control legislation in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
But Democratic leaders want to focus on more modest goals on gun control that are deliverable, such as expanded background checks and closing loopholes.
Hanging over everything is the 2018 midterm elections, when Senate Democrats will be defending 10 seats in states won by President Trump.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a rising star who is eyeing a possible White House bid in 2020, is taking the lead on expanding background checks, which has widespread public support.
He and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) are less gung-ho about pushing votes to restrict military-style rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines, proposals Democrats pushed in 2013 after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and which failed by big margins.
“In general we have to be careful not to whipsaw our policy agenda back and forth based on the details of the last mass shooting. That’s why I think it’s important to constantly be talking about the one policy change that would save the most lives: background checks,” said Murphy.
Some gun control activists say now is the time to strike on banning semi-automatic rifles with military stylings, such as pistol grips and barrel shrouds, as well as high-capacity magazines that allow sustained bullet sprays.
“I would bring the assault weapons ban up. I don’t think background checks is the way to go in Congress,” said Ladd Everitt, director of 1Pulse4America, a gun-violence prevention group created after last year’s Orlando, Fla., nightclub shooting that left 49 people dead.
Everitt said background checks should be the priority at the state level in Nevada.
“I would get a vote in Congress on the assault weapons right now. This guy inflicted 600 casualties. This is nuts,” he added.
Other gun control groups are backing the Democratic strategy.
Christian Heyne, the legislative director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said no one bill will stop gun violence and said expanded background checks are a foundation for what he called other life-saving restrictions on firearms.
At the same time, Heyne would like to see Democrats push for votes on banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
“I’m not content with just doing that,” he said of strengthening background check requirements.
Schumer told reporters Tuesday that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the author of the assault weapons ban that was law from 1994 to 2004 and the sponsor of an updated assault weapons ban that failed in 2013, will likely now work on advancing only a slice of that legislation.
“Sen. Feinstein is taking a piece of the assault weapons ban that allows you to convert semi-automatic guns to automatic guns and abolishing it. It’s legislation that the vast majority in the Democratic caucus support, maybe everybody,” he said.
At least one of the rifles found in the hotel suite from which Stephen Paddock fired hundreds of bullets at a concert crowd in Las Vegas was outfitted with a bump stock that allows a semi-automatic weapon to fire at the same rate as a fully automatic gun.
Schumer has also sent a letter to President Trump calling on him to convene a special meeting of Republican and Democratic lawmakers to come up with a “reasonable solution.”
A senior Democratic aide said the leadership is focused on getting Trump to break with his party and to pressure GOP lawmakers to do something.
“None of this matters if we can’t get Republicans to do something,” said the aide.
Trump told reporters Tuesday morning before departing for Puerto Rico that he would be open to discussing restrictions on firearms at a later date but not in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s shooting.
“We’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes on,” Trump said.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has called on Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to create a select committee to examine and propose changes to the nation’s gun laws.
But the idea of proposing a blue-ribbon panel to study an issue after 59 people died in Las Vegas at the hands of a single gunman strikes some gun control advocates as inadequate, underlining the pressure Democrats are facing from their left flank.
“I was upset yesterday when Pelosi announced that the House Democrats ask was going to be a call for a select committee,” said Everitt of 1Pulse4America.
“That was way too weak. The bare minimum they should have come out with is asking for the SHARE Act be tabled,” he added, referring to legislation that would loosen regulations on gun suppressors and armor-piercing ammunition.
Ryan told reporters Tuesday that the GOP bill, which was previously expected to come to the House floor next week, is now off the schedule.
“That bill is not scheduled now,” he said. “I don’t know when it’s going to be scheduled.”
Another bill loosening restrictions on concealed firearms, which would make it easier for concealed carry permit holders to transport guns across state lines, is also in limbo.
Republican lawmakers say it’s appropriate to let time pass and pay respect to the victims of the Vegas shooting before debating gun legislation.
“I know everything here becomes a political issue but I have a friend who was at that concert and three people passed away in his arms,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.). “I just think it’s a little raw.”
He said the nation needs to go through a period of mourning before starting a fight over an issue that divides the public as much as gun control.