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The House passed 2 gun control bills, but Democrats aren’t in a rush to do more

Judiciary chairman expects to take up more gun legislation but not until after June

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D- N.Y., says his panel will mark up more gun safety legislation but likely not until after June. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D- N.Y., says his panel will mark up more gun safety legislation but likely not until after June. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democrats took a victory lap this week as their new majority passed two priority gun control measures that the previous Republican majority had blocked for years, but they appear to be in no rush to pass more. 

“Yes, not immediately, but this session,” Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler told Roll Call on Thursday when asked if his panel would be marking up more legislation designed to prevent gun violence. Not immediately, the New York Democrat said, is likely “after June sometime.”

Nadler’s remarks came after the House on Thursday passed, 228-198, legislation that would extend from three days to 10 days the time for the government to complete a background check on someone who’s trying to buy a gun from a licensed dealer before the sale can go through. 

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn has been introducing the measure to address what’s known as “the Charleston loophole” since the 2015 mass shooting there at a South Carolina church that left nine dead. The gunman, Dylann Roof, was able to purchase a firearm even though his background check had not been approved because the FBI needed more time beyond the legal three-day window.

A day earlier, the House passed a bill that would expand the background check process to include purchases made at gun shows, online or in other private settings, not just at licensed dealers. That vote was 240-190. 

California Rep. Mike Thompson, the sponsor of that earlier measure, said the gun violence prevention task force that he chairs will continue to look at other legislative solutions, but he had no immediate timing in mind for advancing more bills. 

“A lot of people have a lot of ideas. We’re looking at them all. If good ones are there, we’ll do everything we can to get them to the forefront,” he said.  

For example, Thompson noted he has a bill that would require the FBI to alert local law enforcement when someone who tries to buy a gun fails a background check. He also said he’d support legislation to implement red flag laws that would allow police or family members to petition courts to temporarily remove firearms from people who pose a threat to themselves or others. 

Those are just several of the dozens of gun violence prevention bills Democrats have introduced — primarily reintroduced — since the start of the 116th Congress. Other proposals include raising the age at which someone can purchase an assault rifle and banning bump stocks — devices that can be attached to semiautomatic weapons so they fire at the rate of a machine gun.

Rep. Dina Titus acknowledged last month that some proposals may take longer to pass than others. The Nevada Democrat represents parts of Las Vegas, where in 2017 a gunman equipped his rifles with bump stocks to rapidly fire at attendees of country music concert, killing 58 people.  

“You start with those that you’re most likely to get support from across the aisle, and you build up to things that people consider more extreme, like bans,” she told Roll Call in January.

Also watch: ‘This is not a moment of silence, this is not a sit-in, this is action,’ Deutch says 

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Bipartisan first 

House Democrats plan to be taking a deliberate approach to their gun control agenda. 

“These bills are bipartisan, especially the one yesterday,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday. “You’ve heard me say it over and over, ‘Public sentiment is everything.’ Ninety percent of the American people … support background checks, even members of the National Rifle Association.”

That public sentiment is what Pelosi thinks is going to eventually prompt action in the Senate, where Republican leaders have signaled they have no plans to bring up the Democrats’ two bills. 

“I count the votes in the House, not in the Senate, as you know,” the speaker said. “But I do think that when the opportunity is there for a bipartisan bill which is very discreet and focused and is the bill that will save the most lives that hopefully, we can get a positive vote from the Senate.”

Democrats deliberately started with two gun control bills that are bipartisan for that reason. But despite a few co-sponsors from across the aisle, both bills had very little support from House Republicans. Eight voted with Democrats to pass Thompson’s background check expansion bill, while only three helped pass Clyburn’s bill to close the Charleston loophole. 

Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind, a Democrat from a rural district who is a big hunter and owns 18 guns, voted for Thompson’s bill, saying expanding the types of firearm sales to which background checks apply “is a very low cliff when it comes to gun safety.”

However, Kind was one of seven Democrats who voted against Clyburn’s bill.

“That’s on the government,” he said. “If we can’t get a good system in place that can deal with it in three days, we need to up our game as a federal government, devote more resources and clean it up and make this as efficient and quick as possible.”

Some gun control measures, such as proposals to fully ban certain types of firearms, may be a bridge too far for Democrats from rural districts where gun ownership is more prevalent. But Kind said many hunters and sportsmen are open to reasonable safety measures, Democrats just need to strike the right balance. 

“I think you can move forward on some reasonable gun safety measures while still being respectful of Second Amendment rights,” he said.