House Democrats unveil gun control agenda that faces uphill battle in Congress

Friday, February 8, 2013 - 12:17pm

House Democratic leaders rolled out a wide ranging set of proposals on Thursday to address gun violence, an agenda that largely mirrored those released by Vice President Joe Biden last month but faces an uphill battle in Congress to become law.

After meeting with victims of gun violence, gun rights groups, law enforcement officials and others a task force created by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi presented fifteen principles it aimed to convert into legislation soon. The central and most controversial piece includes reinstating the assault weapons ban, a politically charged issue that Congressional aides from both parties doubt will get enough support to pass either chamber on Capitol Hill. The group also said Congress should ban magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition and require universal background checks for anyone purchasing firearms.

The other recommendations included strengthening the current background check database, restoring federal funding for research into ways to reduce gun violence, improving mental health resources, and improving school safety.

California Democratic Rep Mike Thompson, a Vietnam veteran and self described gun owner, chaired the group and stressed "I'm not interested in giving up my guns and I'm not asking anyone else to give up their guns."

After a gunman killed 20 elementary school children and six school officials in Newtown, Connecticut in December, President Obama, who did not press for any gun control measures in his first term, took up the issue and vowed to make new restrictions on guns and ammunition a top priority.

But those Democrats representing rural states and facing difficult re-election campaigns are reluctant to take a vote on the assault weapons ban, when that measure isn't likely to pass in the Republican controlled House, or even come up for a vote.

House Speaker John Boehner has said he doesn't have any plans to bring any measures up for a vote in the House of Representatives until the Senate acts first.

Pelosi sidestepped a question at a press conference on Thursday about the chances of Congress ever voting on the assault weapons ban, saying she wanted "the boldest possible package," and argued "the American people are way ahead of Congress on this issue."

Even some Democrats on the gun violence task force say it's more likely that Congress can only get enough support to pass measures beefing up the background check system and limiting the amount of rounds of ammunition in a single magazine.

But given the American public's renewed interest in the issue and public opinion polls showing more people are willing to approve stricter controls, advocates for new laws maintain this is the time to seize on the opportunity to use public pressure to get something done on an issue that has largely been ignored since the mid 1990s.

"I hope that we will have something that the American people will say they honored their oath of office to protect and defend, not that they were afraid of any special interest group out there, out of the money that is behind the gun interests in our country," Pelosi said.

Obama, who addressed the House Democrats on Thursday, mentioned the issue in his opening remarks, encouraging Democrats to take steps "to end the cycle of gun violence in this country."

But in a nod to the political challenge, the President said, "we should do so recognizing that again there are regional differences here, we should respect those."

South Carolina Rep Jim Clyburn conceded that Democrats might not get all of what they proposed right away, saying, "It may not pass -- all of it -- the first time out. But I am convinced, I am convinced that sooner or later we will have comprehensive legislation."

 

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