Senate Democrats vowed Tuesday to move forward with new gun safety legislation in the wake of two more mass shootings, but passage of such measures faces long odds thanks to Republican resistance.
“I’ve already committed to bringing universal background checks legislation to the floor of the Senate,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a Tuesday news conference, adding, “Make no mistake: The Senate legislative graveyard is over.”
A week ago, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., scheduled a hearing titled “Constitutional and Common Sense Steps to Reduce Gun Violence.” In the seven days that followed, America experienced two mass shootings. Last Tuesday evening, a gunman killed eight people at three separate spa locations in Atlanta. The following Monday afternoon, 10 people were killed at a Boulder, Colo., grocery store.
“Prayer leaders have their important place in this, but we are Senate leaders. What are we doing? What are we doing other than reflecting and praying? That’s a good starting point. That shouldn’t be an end point,” Durbin said to open the hearing, adding that there would be additional hearings on specific proposals.
Earlier this month, the House passed a pair of bills that would expand background checks. One measure would close a loophole by forcing those who purchase firearms over the internet, at gun shows or through private transactions to first undergo a background check. The second bill would allow 10 business days for federal background checks to be completed, versus the current standard of three days.
On Tuesday, Schumer promised a vote on the legislation and criticized Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s handling of the debate over gun legislation.
“This Democratic-led Senate will be different,” Schumer said. “The Senate is not going to hide. We’re going to debate the epidemics of gun violence in this country.”
Democrats have pushed for new federal gun legislation for years, most notably in the wake of the 2012 shooting at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, during an armed rampage. A bipartisan proposal on background checks from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., received 54 votes in April 2013, falling short of the 60 votes necessary for passage under current filibuster rules. Both the White House and some more moderate Democratic senators continue to support the filibuster, meaning at least 10 Republicans would have to vote with Democrats to pass the two House measures.
Manchin said earlier this month that he opposes the background checks on private transactions included in the House legislation, but supported another attempt to pass Manchin-Toomey.
“Law-abiding gun owners aren’t going to sell their guns to strangers,” Manchin told CQ Roll Call. “That’s how we’re taught. We’re not going to loan guns to strangers or even to family members who aren’t responsible. We’re not doing that, so don’t take all my rights away.”
President Biden proposed even bolder action in a statement Tuesday, saying that the federal government needed to act to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
“I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone another hour, to take common sense steps that will save lives in the future and to urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act,” Biden said.
When asked Tuesday about the filibuster and Manchin’s position, Schumer sidestepped both questions, saying he would be discussing the best path forward with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a leading gun control advocate. Schumer said he had not yet discussed an assault weapons ban with the White House.
Republicans have pushed back against the House legislation, with Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa among a number of GOP senators who blamed the criticism of law enforcement during last summer’s protests for a nationwide uptick in violent crime.
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., compared expansion of gun safety legislation to punishing sober drivers for drunk drivers or all Muslims for a terrorist attack.
“I’m not trying to perfectly equate these two, but we have a lot of drunk drivers in America that kill a lot of people,” Kennedy said. “We ought to try to combat that, too. But I think what many on my side of the aisle are saying is that the answer is not to get rid of all sober drivers. The answer is to concentrate on the problem.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, promoted a piece of legislation he had previously introduced with Grassley that would criminalize the purchasing of firearms by someone who is attaining them for a prohibited buyer. Cruz also criticized the Democratic efforts.
“Every time there’s a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders,” Cruz said. “What happens in this committee after every mass shooting is Democrats propose taking away guns from law-abiding citizens, because that’s their political objective.”
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