Top Democrats vowed Thursday to take action “soon” after the new Congress is seated next year to pass a “bipartisan” bill that could impose more background checks on firearms.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democrats’ House leader, told reporters that gun control is among the chief priorities for her party as it prepares to take the majority.
“We will pass common sense gun violence prevention legislation soon, and … it will be bipartisan,” she said at her weekly press conference.
Rep. Mike Thompson, a California Democrat who heads a gun control task force for his party, said the bill would tighten the existing regime of background checks, which applies to sales from licensed dealers but does not cover private transactions by non-dealers.
Mr. Thompson and other Democrats say they sense momentum thanks to their increased ranks and to the attention garnered by horrific shootings such as February’s high school massacre in Parkland, Florida.
The Democrats gathered Thursday with relatives of victims of recent shootings and survivors of gun violence in advance of the sixth anniversary of the Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school shooting.
Congress responded to the Parkland shooting this year by boosting school safety funding and pushing to have more records be entered into the FBI’s national background check database.
Advocates insist 2019 will be different, after many winning House candidates campaigned aggressively on gun control — even in swing districts — and gun control groups made up what had been a considerable political spending gap with groups like the National Rifle Association.
“We are breaking the vicelike grip of the NRA and the gun lobby on this institution,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, told the shooting survivors Thursday. “You put gun violence on the ballot this November and we won.”
Mr. Blumenthal said one of his first priorities in the new Congress will be to reintroduce a federal “red flag” bill he rolled out with Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, that would allow family members and law enforcement to petition a court to have guns taken away from someone judged to be a danger to self or others.
Various gun control groups have unveiled their own lists about what they want to see prioritized next year, but common items include tightening gun-purchase background checks, spending on federal gun violence research, and passing such “red flag” or “extreme risk” laws.
“It has taken the political class a half a decade to catch up, but they are finally there,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat. “We will get a bill passed through the House of Representatives.”
Mr. Murphy also acknowledged, though, that Democrats don’t currently have the votes to get everything they want passed through the GOP-controlled Senate. He told advocates that change won’t happen right away.
“This is a social change movement of epic proportion and no social-change movement of any significance or consequence in this country has succeeded overnight,” he said. “It takes years and years. It takes both setbacks and small victories.”
Gun rights advocates, meanwhile, have likewise been skeptical that major new gun legislation will ultimately get through the Senate. They also say that a renewed push in the House could actually serve to juice lagging gun sales if the issue gains more attention next year.
“While they may pass bills in the House, I’m not entirely convinced that these proposals will prevail in the Senate or be signed by the president,” said Lawrence G. Keane with the National Shooting Sports Foundation. “The Senate’s become more pro-gun — not less pro-gun … and obviously, we have the most pro-gun, pro-Second Amendment president in history.”
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