February 4, 2013

If any proposals in Obama’s gun package are to have any chance of passing the House, he’ll need to win over Republicans like Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia. He represents one of 16 districts held by Republicans that were carried by Obama in 2012 — the swing area of Virginia Beach — potentially making Republicans like him, and others from suburban and swing districts, gettable.

It turns out Rigell does support a key element of Obama’s gun package — in an interview with me, he called on the House GOP leadership to allow it to come to a vote. And Rigell, a gun owner, staunch defender of the Second Amendment, and lifelong NRA member, is seriously considering supporting a second major Obama gun proposal.

Tomorrow, Rigell and a bipartisan group of House members will introduce the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013, which would stiffen penalties on people who buy firearms for the purpose of transferring them to someone who is prohibited from possessing one, and stiffens penalties for so-called “straw purchasers” who knowingly mislead Federal Firearms Licensees. A similar initiative has been introduced in the Senate, also with bipartisan support, and this idea is a major piece of Obama’s proposal.

The hope is that it will be very hard for the House GOP leadership to oppose a vote on this initiative, because it is widely favored by law enforcement groups and it doesn’t infringe on rights of the law abiding in any way; it only tries to prevent guns from falling into the hands of criminals.

“Law enforcement and prosecutors are telling us that there is ambiguity in the current code with respect to gun trafficking,” Rigell tells me. “They’re telling us that prosecution is difficult. It’s clear that this legislation is needed.”

Rigell suggested he’s going to continue pressing for the initiative to be allowed to the House floor for a vote, and suggested this was an opportunity for House Republicans to prove they’re interested in reaching common ground on sensible proposals.

“We’re going to fight to get this thing on the floor,” Rigell said of the proposal, which is also backed by GOP Rep. Patrick Meehan and Dem Reps Elijah Cummings and Carolyn Mahoney. “This is a great opportunity for our conference to demonstrate and to lead on a very important issue and show the American people we’re ready to do what’s right.”

Rigell added that a vote on the measure would allow Republicans to demonstrate that they don’t “see the legislative process through a prism of party affiliation,” and insisted that this kind of thing should be the sort of “common ground” both sides can agree on.

Rigell also said he was open to supporting Obama’s proposal for universal background checks, though he said he hasn’t made a final decision. “I certainly see the merits of that,” he said.

The House GOP leadership has not said whether it will allow votes on either the trafficking or background check proposals. So it needs to be reiterated that these are both no-brainers that don’t infringe on the rights of the law abiding and are supported by law enforcement. Hopefully we’ll soon see more leadership like that shown here by Rep. Rigell from a handful of other House Republicans.

As unlikely as it might seem that these two proposals could ever get through the House, it is premature to write them off as completely dead. And if they both pass, that would constitute passage of two thirds of Obama’s gun control agenda — and would amount to a major achievement, with or without any assault weapons ban.

 

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.