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McConnell, Democrats trade barbs on gun control

Updated September 11, 2019 - 3:36 pm

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell traded jabs with Democrats on Tuesday, calling gun control news conferences “theatrics” but noting the White House was preparing proposals on the polarizing issue following an August of mass shootings.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., held a news conference at the Capitol this week with the mayor of Dayton, Ohio, to urge the Senate to pass a background check bill that the House approved in February.

McConnell, R-Ky., called the news conference a “stunt” because President Donald Trump has vowed to veto that background check bill if it is passed by the Senate and sent to the White House for his signature.

The Senate Republican leader said a White House aide, Eric Ueland, gave a briefing to GOP senators during a weekly lunch about a proposal that the president could sign. Specifics about it were not revealed, but the president has indicated it could include several measures.

“Until that happens, all of this is theatrics,” McConnell said.

The Senate GOP leader chided Democrats for their rhetoric, and the media for the coverage.

“On a serious issue like this after these horrendous shootings dominating the month of August, at least we could come back with a level of seriousness,” McConnell said.

Shifting presidential support

The president supported gun control measures after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, but since then he has embraced the National Rifle Association’s opposition to background checks and gun registration.

Numerous anti-gun violence groups have backed Democratic efforts to pass legislation to strengthen backgrounds checks, ban high-capacity magazines and even outlaw assault weapons.

State, local and community groups have complained about the gridlock in Congress while mass shootings continue.

Pelosi said McConnell has failed to bring up the background bill passed by the House because of political pressure from gun rights groups, who donate overwhelmingly to GOP campaigns.

Uneven political spending

Gun control groups have contributed heavily to Democratic campaigns.

Over the past 30 years, gun rights interests have given $149 million to candidates, while gun control interests have forked out $21 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group that tracks money in politics.

“No one’s political survival is more important that the survival of our children,” Pelosi said Tuesday.

“Thousands of people, thousands of children, have died since Senator McConnell first refused to take up our bills,” she said.

McConnell brushed off the criticism and noted that “making a law when you have divided government is challenging. We all have different points of view.”

Senate Republicans have worked with White House aides on proposals that include “red flag” bills that would expedite due process to remove or stop someone considered mentally unstable or threatening, from obtaining a weapon.

Shootings increase pressure

Congress and the White House are under mounting pressure to address gun violence after a string of mass shootings that began in Gilroy, California, in July and continued in August with tragedies in El Paso, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; and Odessa, Texas.

The August mass shootings claimed the lives of 51 people.

Las Vegas is still reeling from the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting, classified by the federal government as the worst in U.S. history, where 58 people died and hundreds were wounded by a single gunman perched in a hotel room with assault weapons and “bump stocks” that accelerate the rate of fire of semi-automatic rifles.

Trump ordered the Justice Department to administratively make bump stocks illegal. (Fully automatic weapons are heavily restricted and generally require a federal firearms license to own.)

The NRA backed the administrative ruling but has opposed legislation in the House and Senate to outlaw the devices.

Nevadans divided

The Nevada congressional delegation has been divided along party lines.

Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen have backed several gun control bills in the Senate.

In the House, Democratic Rep. Dina Titus has introduced bills to outlaw high-capacity magazines and assault weapons. Titus and Democratic Reps. Susie Lee and Steven Horsford voted for the background check bill that passed in the House in February along mostly party lines.

Rep. Mark Amodei, the lone Republican in the delegation, voted against the background check bill.

Amodei urged Trump to seek a regulation change on bump stocks after the Las Vegas shooting.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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