WASHINGTON — House Democrats on a key congressional panel rammed through three gun violence prevention bills as Senate Republicans and President Donald Trump continued Wednesday to study alternatives amid mounting public pressure to act.
Trump told reporters he spoke with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who crafted an expanded background check bill in 2013, as well as Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., about potential legislation in the aftermath of recent deadly mass shootings.
“We’re going to take a look at a lot of different things,” Trump said.
Asked if he supported expanded background checks, Trump said “there’s a lot of things under discussion. Some things will never happen … and some very meaningful things can happen.”
The comment came one day after Trump warned against Senate consideration of proposed background check legislation and the need to protect the Second Amendment.
Democrats have seized on growing public outrage over recent mass shootings to push Senate Republicans and the White House on gun control bills, urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to take up an expanded background check bill passed by the House in February.
House committee passes bills
Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines, 23-16, late Tuesday to pass a series of bills.
One would encourage states to pass “red flag” laws to allow authorities to take away weapons from people deemed threatening and another would prevent someone with a hate crime conviction from obtaining a weapon.
The third measure, sponsored by Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., and others, would ban high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
Those magazines have been used in mass shootings in Las Vegas; Sutherland Springs, Texas; Sandy Hook, Connecticut; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the recent attacks in Gilroy, California; El Paso, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; and Odessa, Texas.
“The fact is, high capacity magazines are used for one thing — high capacity killing,’’ Titus and other co-sponsors of the bill — Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. — said in a statement.
Their joint statement noted a need to act quickly.
The National Rifle Association is opposed to expanded background checks and firearms legislation, calling it an infringement of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. The group notes that in most mass shootings, the gunmen obtained their weapons legally, and would not have been stopped by expanding background checks to all gun sales.
Awash in money
The polarizing issue in Congress has led to lobbying efforts by both sides, with the NRA and other gun rights groups donating heavily to Republicans and gun control groups backing Democratic campaigns and causes.
The gun rights interests gave $149 million over the past three decades to candidates, while gun control interests gave $21 million to campaigns and candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics.
McConnell has repeatedly said he will not take up legislation that is not endorsed by the president. Trump has threatened to veto the House-passed expanded background check bill, instead urging lawmakers to address mental illness.
But Democrats who co-sponsored the bill to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines laid the blame for legislative inaction on McConnell.
“It is well past time for Senator McConnell to listen to the will of the American people calling for sensible action on gun violence, and quit doing the gun lobby’s bidding,” Titus and the bill’s co-sponsors said in a statement.
Earlier this week, McConnell brushed off the criticism as “theatrics” and urged Democrats to work with Republicans on legislation that could be passed and signed into law.
Republicans in Congress are feeling the pressure from constituents to act as horrific shootings continue to occur.
Public pressure on Congress and the White House intensified in August when 51 people were murdered in three mass shootings. Those deaths don’t include those in the Gilroy attack, which occurred at the end of July.
In every instance, the killer had high capacity magazines and used various semi-automatic assault weapons. In Dayton, the shooter had a drum magazine that held 100 rounds and was legally purchased in Texas.
That device allowed him to shoot 41 rounds in just 32 seconds before police shot and killed him.
In the Oct. 1, 2017, shooting in Las Vegas, the gunman legally purchased semi-automatic rifles over a period of time, used high-capacity ammunition magazines and attached “bump stocks” to accelerate the rate of fire.
Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, used his 32nd floor hotel room as a perch to fire 1,100 rounds into a crowd of concertgoers below. There were 58 people killed and hundreds wounded in what the FBI has characterized as the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
Trump ordered the Justice Department to reclassify bump stocks to make them illegal, a move applauded by Republicans who favored an administrative action over legislation to outright ban the devices.
The Keep Americans Safe Act
— Reinstates expired ban on the sale, transfer or possession of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
— Exempt are all high-capacity magazines legally owned before the bill is enacted.
— Also exempt are military or law enforcement officers who use high-capacity magazines in their official capacity.
Source: House Judiciary Committee