U.S. House committee advances gun control bills

Committee also honors Sensenbrenner (R-WI) before voting

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Photo by Ryan on Unsplash

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House Judiciary Committee committee advanced three gun safety bills on Tuesday despite unified Republican opposition. 

The committee voted along partisan lines to approve “red flag” legislation that seeks to limit access to firearms for those deemed a risk to themselves or others. The committee also voted to advance legislation that would ban high-capacity magazines and another measure to prohibit people convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes from possessing firearms. 

Retiring GOP Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner serves on the Judiciary Committee, but he did not vote during the committee’s roll call tallies late Tuesday evening. 

Sensenbrenner told the Wisconsin Examiner earlier that day that he “can support a proper red flag law,” but it “has got to be done right.” In order to protect due process rights, he said it’s critical that the person “have their day in court.” 

Asked whether he expects this Congress to enact gun control legislation, he said, “No, I’ll be really honest with you on that.” Sensenbrenner co-sponsored landmark gun control legislation in the early 1990s, but voted against House Democrats’ attempt to expand background checks earlier this year. 

The three gun control measures that cleared the Judiciary Committee Tuesday are likely to pass the Democratic-controlled House, but are certain to face a steeper climb in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Republican lawmakers have blocked efforts to enact tougher gun laws in recent years. 

Congressional Democrats have made gun control a centerpiece of their agenda this fall in the wake of a string of mass shootings that killed dozens of people across the country last month. 

Democrats said they don’t expect any single piece of legislation to fix the problem, but they pointed to these bills and background check legislation that the House passed in February as important efforts to curb gun violence. 

“We are acting because of the urgent need to respond to the daily toll of gun violence in our communities, whether they are mass shootings or not, and whether or not they make national headlines,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.). “We must approach this issue with a range of solutions and with a sense of urgency.” 

President Trump as well as some Republicans in the House and Senate have indicated that they may also be willing to back gun control reforms, but Tuesday night’s vote offers the latest indication that bipartisan compromise on the historically polarizing issue won’t come easily. 

House lawmakers argued for several hours into the evening Tuesday about the proper legislative response to the widespread gun violence that kills roughly 35,000 Americans annually. 

The red flag law, H.R. 1236, would provide incentives to states to enact laws allowing courts to seize firearms from people deemed threats to themselves or others. It would also incorporate language from Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) to set up a procedure for obtaining so-called Extreme Risk Protection Orders in federal court.

McBath — whose son Jordan Davis was shot and killed in 2012 when he was 17 following an argument about loud music — told her colleagues Tuesday that “inaction is unacceptable.” 

“I know the pain of losing a child to gun violence and not anyone in this room or anyone in this country should ever be faced with that pain,” she said. “It is our responsibility to prevent this suffering, to bring an end to this constant heartbreak.” 

Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, questioned whether the legislation before the committee would properly address gun violence. They also cited concerns about gun owners’ due process rights as they declared their opposition to the Democratic-backed measures. 

“We need to work in a bipartisan fashion so we actually get it passed into law and do things that will actually make a difference,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.). “We also want to make sure that we’re not taking away people’s constitutional right without due process.” 

Neguse told his colleagues that just because a bill doesn’t solve all problems doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth pursuing. 

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said Republicans are using “absurd rhetoric” to argue that “when you have reasonable, common-sense gun safety regulation to keep people from getting guns who shouldn’t have them, like felons and fugitives and unstable people, that somehow we’re violating the Second Amendment.” 

He implored the GOP: “Let’s get together across party lines. This is for the American people.” 

Prospects for gun control legislation in the Senate remained murky as lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill this week after a month-long recess. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that the White House is preparing a proposal to respond to recent shootings and that he’ll decide to proceed after seeing Trump’s plan, the Hill reported

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters that he’s in discussions with President Trump and his colleagues about stricter background check legislation, but he stressed that he doesn’t think H.R. 8 has a chance at being passed in the Senate. 

“The president has been very engaged. He’s been very receptive,” Toomey said. “He is open to doing something in this space, and from my conversations with him and confirmed by his staff, he has not yet made a decision regarding exactly what he’s going to support.”

To begin the meeting, Nadler noted the planned retirement of Sensenbrenner, “chairman emeritus” of the committee, saying: “He has always been a strong defender of this committee and its jurisdiction. We have worked together on many important issues such as surveillance reform and reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act.” 

Replied Sensenbrenner: “I’ve already threatened that I’ll be more unhinged in the next 16 months since there’s nobody who will ever be able to say, ‘I’m never going to vote for you again because you did this or said that.’”

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