The House will vote on gun-control legislation this week as part of a broader package of counterterrorism measures, but it will do little to end the political discord between Republicans and Democrats over how Congress should respond to the recent mass shooting in Orlando.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) on Friday announced there would be a vote this week on legislation that incorporates a broad swath of Republican proposals to counter radicalization in the United States. They include the creation of a new government counterterrorism office; plans for a nationwide exercise to determine the threat posed by foreign fighters and U.S. citizens traveling to train with terror groups; authority to revoke the U.S. passports of people who belong to or have helped terror groups; and an alert system to notify the FBI whenever someone who has been on a watch list in the past five years purchases a gun.
“This counterterrorism legislation provides new tools to protect our homeland, including a provision to prevent terrorists from buying guns,” Ryan said in a statement.
The section of the legislation that would prevent a gun sale to a suspected terrorist requires the government to prove to a judge, in three business days, that there is probable cause that the would-be buyer has links to terrorism.
It is similar to proposal introduced in the Senate by John Cornyn (R-Tex.) that Democrats in both chambers oppose and that failed to garner enough votes to pass the Senate last month. Democrats argue the three-day window for proving probable cause is an impossible hurdle to clear and would do little to curtail the sale of guns to possible terrorists.
House Democrats want a vote on a more expansive measure to deny firearms to suspected terrorists appearing on government watch lists, as well as a vote on a measure to expand background checks. According to a Democratic aide, Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and John Larson (D-Conn.) – two of the ringleaders of House Democrats’ dramatic 26-hour sit-in on the House floor last month – have asked Ryan for a meeting in hopes of presenting these two measures as amendments to the new counterterrorism bill.
It’s unclear what if any protest Democrats may mount if they don’t receive a vote on their preferred gun legislation.
Last month, when Democrats disbanded their sit-in, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) warned “we will be back.” Last week many House Democrats took part in a “Day of Action” in their home districts to draw attention to gun-control measures.
But the chief organizers of last month’s sit-in do not appear to have decided how they will respond if Republicans do not allow votes on the bills they support in the coming weeks.
If they are not allowed to present their preferred measures as amendments to the counterterrorism bill, “members will have further discussions about possible actions to take in response,” a Democratic aide said.
House Democrats have been shying away from committing to a specific plan to promote their gun-control message. Even Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement and a leader of last month’s sit-in, would not offer a strategy any more specific than “tactics or techniques in keeping with the discipline of non-violence” when asked last month what course he and his colleagues would pursue when they returned in July.
Democrats could simply continue their pattern of holding news conferences and rallies – but such tactics have done little to sway Republican leaders who said they oppose many of the Democrats’ proposals because they would curtail gun owners’ Second Amendment rights.
It is risky, however, to resume the sit-in – House GOP leaders showed last month that they would barrel through and hold votes even if Democrats were engaged in an active protest on the floor, and Republicans have also been clear they have no interest in rewarding what they see as bad behavior.
“If we give in to it, it will be seen as productive,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said during the protest. “I don’t want to live in a House that runs this way.”
Neither side, however, seems willing to give up the political fight, which has potential campaign-trail implications in an election year.
Democratic and Republican leaders have shown little interest in a compromise effort that originated in the Senate and was also introduced in the House last month by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) and Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) that would deny gun sales only to people on the FBI’s No Fly and Selectee Lists.
While any Democratic proposal is unlikely to pass the House, some Democrats said a vote would still allow them to get members on the record on a controversial issue.
“If what you believe in is carnage, then stand up for that,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said during the sit-in, challenging Republicans not to “hide behind the NRA and their skirt.”