House Judiciary Committee sends gun control bills to the floor

Lengthy, contentious markup highlights how Republican opposition could stall effort in Senate

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., center, said the committee was "acting because of the urgent need to respond to the daily toll of gun violence in our communities." (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., center, said the committee was "acting because of the urgent need to respond to the daily toll of gun violence in our communities." (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 11, 2019 at 8:10am

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee advanced three more gun control bills Tuesday during a lengthy, often contentious and sometimes emotional markup that highlighted how Republican opposition could stall the efforts in the Senate.

The committee considered the legislation in the wake of an August in which 53 people were killed in mass shootings in the U.S., according to Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York. The shootings prompted a national address from President Donald Trump and intensified calls for Congress to act.

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Democrats say there is broad public support for the three measures. One bill would allow judges to order guns taken from people thought to be a public danger; another would outlaw large-capacity magazines. The third bill would bar those convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime from owning a weapon.

Republicans argue that the bills would do nothing to make the country safer and would infringe on constitutional rights.

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Over more than four hours, Democrats rejected Republican amendments and then advanced the bills along party-line votes. Committee Democrats say they expect the bills to reach the House floor in the next few weeks.

Tuesday’s action comes as House-passed gun control measures to bolster background checks for gun purchases remain stalled in the Senate. Congress has not enacted any gun control legislation in decades.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he would not bring those background check bills to the floor unless Trump says he would sign them into law. Although senators are talking with the White House this week, the Trump administration previously issued a veto threat for the bills.

“That will not stop this committee,” Nadler said of the Senate opposition at the beginning of the markup. “Today, we will consider three more measures that would help prevent the tragic gun violence that has engulfed this nation in recent years.”

Nadler said the committee is “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.”

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the committee’s top Republican, said the measures were problematic and could “work to make us feel better about what we’re doing but in the end not actually help in those situations in a real way, and in many ways, could actually add to the problem.”

Collins said there were due process problems with the bill to establish a grant program to encourage states to enact laws that allow courts to take firearms away from people suspected of being a danger to the public, so-called red flag laws.

Judges could take away firearms without notice or an opportunity to be heard in court, and on a low standard of evidence, Collins said. “Do we really want to surrender Americans’ constitutional rights to such a low standard without giving those citizens notice or an opportunity to be heard?” Collins said.

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Nadler said one study found that more than half of mass shooters exhibited some warning signs before a shooting and that 17 states and the District of Columbia have red flag laws. California’s law has resulted in 21 instances of a protective order being issued to take away someone’s guns when there was concern of a mass casualty event, and suicide rates went down in Connecticut and Indiana after similar laws were enacted.

Trump voiced support for red flag laws in an Aug. 5 televised address after shootings that killed at least three at a festival in California, 22 at a Walmart in Texas and nine in an entertainment district in Ohio. Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, has been working on a similar bill.

Democrats on the House committee defended the red flag bill and urged Republicans to support the measures as part of a constellation of gun control efforts.

“No one measure is going to solve every problem,” said Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California. “But if we take a number of sensible steps, it will make people safer.”

Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia, whose son was killed in gun violence, choked back tears as she spoke about stopping the pain of losing relatives. “Inaction is unacceptable,” McBath said.

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