Democrats show little appetite for Biden’s call for gun control
President Biden on Monday marked the fourth anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by calling on Congress to pass gun-control legislation.
But there seems little if any chance his calls will be answered.
Democratic lawmakers are showing little appetite for tackling the controversial issue ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, exasperating activists frustrated over the lack of action at a time when Democrats control the White House and both branches of Congress after 10 years of Republican or split control of Congress.
Negotiations between Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) stalled out over the summer, and there’s been little to no talk in the Senate Democratic Caucus about picking up two gun control bills that passed the House in March.
Igor Volsky, the co-founder of Guns Down America, said that Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) promised anti-gun violence groups the Senate would vote on background checks legislation in the summer of 2021, but the bills didn’t make it to the floor.
“We’ve been promised by Senate Majority Leader Schumer as far back as March, April that there would be a vote during the summer, then it got pushed back even further. They’re using this familiar playbook of making all kinds of promises during the campaign and then fail to deliver anything when they’re in power,” Volsky said.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who represents a state where hunting is a popular pastime and where nearly two-thirds of adults live in homes with firearms, said the subject of gun control legislation hardly ever came up for discussion within the Senate Democratic Caucus during Biden’s first year in office.
“It hasn’t come up in conversation in the last year,” he told The Hill shortly before Thanksgiving.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), another centrist who led bipartisan negotiations in 2013 on a proposal to expand background checks, said Monday he’s not aware of any discussion on gun control legislation in recent weeks.
“No, there hasn’t been any changes whatsoever,” he said, pointing to the lack of Republican support as the major reason why background checks legislation hasn’t come to the floor.
He said the staunch Republican opposition “makes it very difficult” to get something through the Senate.
The House passed two gun control bills largely along party lines in March of 2021.
One proposal, which passed 227 to 203, would expand background checks, and the second, which passed 219 to 210, would give the FBI 10 days to vet gun buyers.
Those measures have now sat in Senate limbo for nearly a year.
Biden on Monday tried to resuscitate his gun control agenda by calling on Congress to act.
He noted that he’s asked Congress to provide an additional $500 million in funding to reduce violent crime and increased funding for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Marshals.
“Congress must do much more — beginning with requiring background checks on all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers,” he said.
He made his comments as part of a broader statement commemorating the deaths of 14 students and three staff members in Parkland, Fla., in 2018.
“We can never bring back those we’ve lost. But we can come together to fulfill the first responsibility of our government and our democracy: to keep each other safe. For Parkland, for all those we’ve lost, and for all those left behind, it is time to uphold that solemn obligation,” he said.
The Senate hasn’t held an extended floor debate on gun control since April of 2013, a few months after a gunman killed 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
At the time, the leading proposal to expand background checks was sponsored by Manchin and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.).
In a bid to win more Republican support, it would have established an exemption for firearms sales and transfers between friends and family members. It failed by a vote of 54 to 46, falling six votes short of clearing the procedural threshold to move forward.
The Senate also voted in 2013, 40 to 60, against an amendment sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to ban the sale or transfer of military-style assault weapons. It voted 46-54 against an amendment sponsored by late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) to regulate high-capacity ammunition feeding devices.
After winning the Senate majority in January of last year, Democratic senators said there was little chance of passing a ban on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines, but they thought they could negotiate a compromise to expand background checks.
But those hopes crumbled after Murphy could not reach a compromise with Cornyn.
“Cornyn negotiated in good faith. … Where we ended up just was not better than current law,” Murphy said in a statement released in June.
Now the question Schumer faces is whether to force a vote on background checks legislation that is likely to fail because there aren’t 10 Republicans in the 50-50 Senate willing to vote for it.
While such a vote would put Republicans on the record as opposing a reform that more than 80 percent of voters support, it could turn into a future political liability for vulnerable Democrats running in swing states such as Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire and Nevada.
Murphy told The Hill last week that he still wants a vote on expanded background checks, even if it has a slim likelihood of success.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told The Hill Monday afternoon that he’s not giving up on gun control either.
“We’re working on that right now,” he said.
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