On Saturday, August 3, an armed man entered a Wal-Mart in El Paso, Texas. Using a semi-automatic version of an AK-47, the gunman killed 22 people and wounded 24 others (as of this writing). It was the seventh-deadliest mass shooting in American history
In the early morning hours of August 4, as many Americans slept uneasily with the knowledge of what had happened in El Paso, another gunman opened fire in a popular nightlife section of Dayton, Ohio. He was wearing body armor and wielding a .223-caliber long gun with a high capacity magazine. The attack lasted less than a minute, but the shooter killed nine people and wounded 27 before police brought him down.
Many Americans, including a number of high-profile Democrats, responded to the attacks with anger built up over years of seeing the same tragic story repeat itself over and over again. Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who is now running for President and used to represent El Paso in the House of Representatives, responded to a reporter’s question about what the President could do to “make things right” with a profane question of his own that quickly went viral.
Others expressed fury at Congressional inaction on gun control – Major League Soccer player Alejandro Bedoya “celebrated” scoring a goal by shouting “Hey Congress, do something now. End gun violence, let’s go” into a field microphone.
There is no lack of gun control legislation pending in Congress – the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives has passed universal background check legislation. However, that bill is currently blocked in the Republican-controlled Senate, a blockade led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
What the Democratic Bills Would Do
Democrats in the House passed their gun control bills all the way back in February, about a month after they took control of the chamber. Those efforts fulfilled campaign promises made by Democratic leadership during the 2018 midterms.
The House passed two bills in February. The first was The Bipartisan Background Checks Act. It requires background checks for firearms purchased at gun shows and over the internet. It also bans non-licensed dealers from transferring guns to another person.
In addition, the House passed The Enhanced Background Checks Act shortly after the BBCA. It expanded the amount of time federal investigators had to conduct background checks on gun purchases. Currently, gun dealers have to wait only three days for a check to be completed before they can move forward with a deal. The EBCA extends that to 10 days.
American Legal News noted when the bills first passed the House that they would not succeed in the Republican-controlled Senate. And, indeed, they have not – McConnell has refused to bring either bill up for a vote or debate on the Senate floor.
The State of Play in the Senate
McConnell and other Republicans have raised the usual objections to the House bills. But whatever substantive concerns Republicans may have, McConnell – who, as majority leader, has final say over which bills the Senate takes up – isn’t simply voting against a bill he doesn’t like. He’s blocking any consideration of the bills whatsoever and refusing to allow a vote on them.
McConnell is blocking those bills because he doesn’t want potentially vulnerable GOP Senators casting votes against universal background checks, which polls consistently show have extraordinary public support. Republican Senators Cory Gardner and Susan Collins represent Colorado and Maine, respectively, and both are up for re-election next year in states won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. A handful of other Republican Senators face potentially difficult re-election fights and don’t want an unpopular vote to be used against them in campaign ads.
In the aftermath of the tragedies in Texas and Ohio, there have been some limited signs of movement among Republicans. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced he had reached a deal with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) on a bill that would provide grants to state to help them enforce “red flag” laws and encourage other states to pass such laws. The President has indicated vague support for the general concept of “red flag” laws, which allow law enforcement officials to seize guns belonging to potentially dangerous individuals.
In a tweet, the President said “Democrats and Republicans must come together and get strong background checks….” However, the President then tweeted that a background checks bill might be “married” to immigration reform. This is almost certainly a non-starter for Democrats, who disagree with Trump on the substance of immigration reform and find it offensive to suggest that the country should place sharp restrictions on immigration from Hispanic countries in the aftermath of a mass shooting that authorities believe was inspired by the shooter’s hatred of Hispanic immigrants.