WASHINGTON – Congressional Democrats upped the heat on Republicans to pass gun control legislation in the wake of this weekend’s Orlando massacre, but barring a fundamental shift in the political status quo on Capitol Hill it will be exceedingly difficult to pass any policy changes before the election.
Senate Democrats said Monday that they would renew a push to bar those on the terror watch list from purchasing firearms or explosives. The effort was in response to news that gunman Omar Mateen, an American who had been probed by the FBI for ties to terrorism, attacked a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., with a military-style rifle and a handgun he had legally purchased,
“This is the first thing we’re going to attempt because it’s the most relevant,” Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the chamber’s third-ranking Democrat, told reporters Monday. “That is not to say we wouldn’t do other things.”
A Democratic attempt to pass similar legislation in December in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shootings was defeated on a party-line vote of 45-54.
Republicans at the time said Democrats were looking to capitalize on the grief of the moment and worried it could lead to people who were wrongfully placed on the terror list being denied their constitutional right to buy guns. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, instead pushed an alternative that would have delayed suspected terrorists from being able to buy firearms for up to 72 hours, giving the FBI time to block the sale.
Schumer said he expects the renewed push will have more legs this time around.
“We believe we’ll do better than we did last time, and we believe that our Republican colleagues are going to, unfortunately circumstances are going to force them to see the light and not just bow in obeisance to the NRA whose positions are just simply extreme,” Schumer said.
Senate Republicans were quiet in the immediate aftermath of the Democrats' announcement -- Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced there would be a moment of silence on the Senate floor at 4 p.m. today in honor of the victims -- but the GOP has been wary to act on any bill that could seemingly limit a law-abiding person’s ability to purchase guns.
Additionally, Senate GOP leaders are looking to maintain their control of the chamber in November and likely will not do anything to jeopardize that. A thin congressional calendar this summer also limits the timetable for any legislative effort.
Schumer said a vote on the terror watch measure could occur as soon as this week, when the chamber is expected to consider a spending bill for the FBI and Justice Department. He said the party is also considering a renewed push for previous gun control legislation, including measures requiring background checks and prohibiting the sale of military-style weapons, but that the terror watch legislation was the most logical first step and the most likely to pass.
Immediately after the shootings, House Speaker Paul Ryan called for a measured approach moving forward.
"As we heal, we need to be clear-eyed about who did this. We are a nation at war with Islamist terrorists,” the Wisconsin Republican said in a statement. “Theirs is a repressive, hateful ideology that respects no borders. It is a threat to our people at home and abroad. Our security depends on our refusal to back down in the face of terror. We never will."
Most Republicans from Georgia’s congressional delegation avoided pushing any specific policies and instead sent their wishes to the city of Orlando and the victims.
But Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe, said people "must recognize that radical Islamic terrorists are a threat to all Americans, and we must use whatever means necessary to protect our country from these savages."
"We need a clear strategy to annihilate these terrorists and their networks once and for all," he said in a statement.
Atlanta Democrat Rep. John Lewis said the events in Orlando should be a wake-up call.
“How many more must die? How long must we wander through this dark killing field filled with the broken bodies of hundreds—even precious little children—before we finally take strong action against the accessibility of assault weapons in this country?” he said.