Congress Puts Gun Legislation on the Back Burner

6:09 PM, Aug 2, 2013   |    comments
Photo: AP
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By Brian Tumulty
Gannett Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Another vote on gun safety legislation probably won't take place in the Senate until next year, but advocates for the cause haven't stopped lobbying.

"This is an intractable Congress and there's not much getting through at all,'' said Shannon Watts, who founded Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense seven months ago. The group now has chapters in every state.

Watts, a mother of five from Indianapolis, said her organization will be around for the long haul.

"We have a campaign planned for every single month, she said. "We are going to continue to put pressure on Congress, but we are also working in our state legislatures. We are similar to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, working on gun reform.''

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada promised Watts and other gun control advocates in a meeting Thursday that the Senate will vote again on gun safety legislation prior to the 2014 mid-term elections.

But the issue is unlikely to come up when lawmakers return Sept. 9 from their month-long August recess.

The National Rifle Association also thinks the legislative battle is not over.

The Senate defeated a series of gun safety measures in mid April, including a proposal to expand background checks for gun purchases and another to impose new criminal penalties for gun trafficking and third-party straw purchases.

The Republican-controlled House has not considered similar legislation and has no plans to do so.

But NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam rejected the suggestion the issue might be dormant.

"We believe they are waiting for an appropriate time to bring it up again,'' he said of gun control supporters in Congress. "Dormant, I think, signifies that it's somewhat dead. We don't view it that way. We fully know that Michael Bloomberg is continuing to spend money and he has billions at his disposal.''

Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, has been involved in gun control advocacy through Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which is doing a 25-state bus tour this summer under the slogan "No More Names,'' a reference to people killed by gun violence.

"August is important, but you have to remember it took seven years to pass the Brady Act,'' said Mark Glaze, executive director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns has staff organizing grassroots events in 16 states - Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington state.

Glaze declined to discuss whether the group plans TV ads targeting key senators who voted against the legislation to expand background checks. But his group has released new Internet videos, including one focusing on Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada.

Heller also is a target of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
"Our job is to engage the voices of the American public for change,'' said Brian Malte, director of federal and state mobilization for the Brady Campaign.

Malte said the mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut have drawn "energy and intensity'' from a new wave of volunteers who are getting involved for a long-term fight to enact new federal gun laws.

"These new advocates across the country have been educated,'' Malte said. "They have understood that there are very few federal gun laws on the books and that we need to have things as simple as background checks.''

Besides Heller, the Brady Campaign's top Senate targets are Democrat Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Republicans Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Jeff Flake of Arizona. All three voted against the bipartisan proposal by Democratic Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania for expanded background checks.

The proposal fell six votes short of the 60 needed for passage. Reid supported the proposal, but voted no to reserve the right to bring it back to the floor at some point.

A separate proposal to add new criminal penalties for gun trafficking and straw purchases of guns - in which third parties buy firearms on behalf of people who cannot legally purchase one themselves - also failed the same day. It fell two votes short of the 60 needed for passage.

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa offered a Republican version of the gun trafficking bill combined with an expansion of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to address purchasers with a mental illness. That proposal fell eight votes short of the required 60.

"My alternative had more bipartisan support,'' said Grassley, noting that nine Democrats voted for his proposal while only four Republicans supported the Manchin-Toomey background checks bill.

Grassley said he doesn't foresee anyone changing their position on the issue.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois also doesn't expect another vote anytime soon.

"I don't see the point,'' he said. "I think we seized a window of opportunity, but it wasn't open.''

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said she still hopes to find common ground for legislation that will get the 60 votes needed for Senate passage.

"We're not going to call the vote up again until there's a consensus on background checks.'' she said. "I hope it's sooner rather than later.''
The House and Senate face a crowded September agenda that includes showdowns over the fiscal 2014 budget and raising the federal debt limit, and a Senate debate over changing the military justice system to handle sexual assaults.

Manchin said the gun safety issue remains alive.

"We're still working,'' he said.

But his cosponsor sees no evidence of progress.

"I am under the impression that no votes have changed,'' Toomey said. "That's my impression. So I suspect if it is revisited, it would probably have the same outcome.''

New York Rep. Peter King is the lead Republican sponsor of the House version of the Manchin-Toomey bill. Rep. Mike Thompson of California is the lead Democratic sponsor.

The bill has 184 cosponsors - 34 short of a 218-vote majority - but has gained only three new cosponsors, all Democrats, since the beginning of June.

"Right now, the support is still extremely low among Republicans, and without that, it's not going to come to the House floor,'' King said. He said the legislation might have a chance of reaching the floor sometime next year.

"It's on my front burner, but I think as far as the House Republican conference is concerned, it's way on the back burner,'' King said. "In fact, it's an issue that's not even discussed among Republicans unless I bring it up, and then it's very tough to get any cosponsors at all.''
New York Rep. Eliot Engel, D-Bronx, agreed House Republican leaders won't allow a floor vote on gun control legislation.

"Republicans under Speaker (John) Boehner's dictate won't bring something to the floor unless it has a majority of the majority,'' Engel said. "Well, it has a small minority of the majority. Pete King is the exception to the rule. Most Republicans don't want to touch background checks or gun control.'' 

 

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