But especially after a mass shooting such as the one in Orlando on Sunday, the conversation inevitably turns to what Congress should or shouldn’t be doing to stop violence like this from happening with such frequency. And that conversation is inevitably framed by one’s politics. As details of what happened in Orlando unfolded, how lawmakers responded was often tied to their political worldview: The right is pointing to radical Islam as a motive, while the left is pointing to guns and LGBT hate crimes.
These differing approaches to Orlando make it even less likely Congress will move on gun legislation. Here is a sampling of what gun legislation is pending in the 114th Congress, both to try to make guns safer, on one side, and to expand Americans’ access to them on the other.
There are a lot of ideas, but one recurring theme on both sides: None of this legislation appears on its way to becoming law anytime soon.
Gun control bills:
Ban assault weapons: Ever since Congress let the federal ban in 2004 expire, Democratic lawmakers have tried to get it reinstated. But in a Republican Congress, it’s probably a hopeless cause. A bill to reinstate it has sat untouched in the House since Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) introduced it in December.
Ban guns for suspected terrorists: Of all the gun control proposals in Congress, this one has the most traction because there is some bipartisan support for it. Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced a bill back in February that would allow the government to deny people suspected of being involved in terrorism from obtaining a gun and making it illegal to sell or give firearms to anyone the government has determined is a terrorist.
But neither has not been brought to a vote. In December, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) tried to circumvent House Republican leadership and bring King’s measure to a vote over the objections of House leadership via a petition, which needs 218 signatures. Even if there is significant momentum, these rarely work. As Congress left for the 2015 holidays, Thompson’s petition had 173 signatures, but it has yet to gather another.
When Congress returned for the new year, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was also considering a parliamentary maneuver that would force a vote on a bill to ban people on the government’s secret (and controversial) no-fly list from owning guns. A similar proposal failed in the Senate the day after the San Bernardino, Calif., mass shooting. We have yet to see any evidence Pelosi is moving forward on forcing a vote, but there is talk in Democratic circles after Orlando of reviving an effort to move this legislation forward.
Strengthening the background check process: Several ideas focus on the time it takes for the FBI to do a background check on buyers and sellers of guns. None have gotten traction so far.
In May, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence put the pressure on Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to release a bill in the Senate to expand background checks, even though other members of the gun control movement questioned how they’d benefit from a bill that is dead on arrival in a Republican-controlled Congress.
To their point, there are other background check bills languishing in Congress. One, from Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), would give the FBI more time to conduct a background check before a licensed firearm dealer can sell a gun. Currently, they have three business days to clear or deny the sale. If the FBI doesn’t finish the background check in time, the sale can go through.
Another bill, from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.), would require the FBI to report to Congress anytime it doesn’t get a background check done in time and a gun is sold or transferred without it.
President Obama tried to tackle background checks, which polls show 80 to 90 percent of Americans support, in executive action he announced in January on gun control. It includes the hiring of more background check workers and expanding the time the database is staffed from 17 hours a day to 24 hours a day.
Although these bills haven’t gotten anywhere, they don’t necessarily put in place more regulations, so they’re not entirely out of question in this current Congress. It is notable that the FBI said a breakdown in its background check system allowed Dylann Roof, who is charged with killing nine parishioners in Charleston, S.C., to buy a gun even though he had a criminal record that should have prevented him from getting one.
Mental health reporting: House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has said mental health laws are what need fixing to stop mass shootings. Cicilline introduced legislation in June that would require states to set up a system allowing mental health workers to report people they think are too dangerous to have guns.
As we mentioned before, there may be some room for compromise on such mental health laws.
Fund federal gun violence research: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been unable to spend federal money on gun violence research since 1995, and Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) have most recently introduced bills that would reinstate the funding. Not only did these bills not go anywhere, they were blocked in December’s spending bill. (Democrats claimed victory by blocking a Republican proposal to stop the Justice Department from tracking the buyers of multiple long guns.)
Smart gun technology: Markey’s office quickly pointed out that another piece of legislation he and Maloney introduced that went nowhere in Congress, a bill that within five years would require all new handguns to be equipped with technology that allows only authorized users to operate it, actually made some headway in Obama’s executive actions. Obama has directed the federal government to research ways to implement smart gun technology.
Gun rights bills:
Limit government demographic information on sales: Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) have introduced a bill that would prohibit the federal government from requiring the disclosure of the race or ethnicity of a person receiving a firearm.
Take firearm dealers off Operation Choke Point: In 2011, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation designated firearm sales and ammunition as “high risk” industries, which put it in a category with cable box descramblers, credit card schemes, escort services, get-rich-quick products, pornography and tobacco sales. Republicans aren’t happy about that, and they accuse the government of abusing its powers to try to limit sales of firearms and other businesses on the list. In early 2015, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) introduced a bill that would end the categorization of firearm dealers. It hasn’t yet advanced.
Expand interstate gun sales: Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) introduced a measure in May that would allow licensed firearms dealers to mail a firearm to a different state than where the purchaser of said firearm lives, under certain circumstances. And it would allow a dealer to conduct business at a gun show in states other than what’s specified on the dealer’s license.
Neither piece of legislation has moved, despite how gun rights proposals have a much better chance of making it into law than the gun control legislation. But like we said, don’t expect Congress to do much on guns this year, even after the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.