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Gun control groups focus all efforts on Senate

Gun control groups focus all efforts on Senate

by ALEX GANGITANO | The Hill  |  Published on March 15, 2021

Gun control groups are now focusing all of their lobbying efforts on the Senate following House passage of two major bills last week that garnered some GOP support.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is promising quick action on the legislation — to strengthen background checks and to close the so-called Charleston loophole — but advocates face a familiar uphill battle in trying to win over enough Republicans.

Still, proponents are optimistic that a Democratic-led Senate, combined with an ally in the Oval Office and a weakened National Rifle Association (NRA), will help get gun control legislation passed for the first time in decades.

“We have a slim gun violence prevention majority, but we have the majority, which we know includes eight Republicans,” said Brian Lemek, executive director of Brady PAC.

Eight GOP lawmakers last week voted for the background check legislation that would require unlicensed or private sellers to conduct a check before they transfer a firearm.

Schumer on Thursday promised to bring the bill, known as H.R. 8, to the Senate floor, though he did not specify timing.

“The legislative graveyard is over,” he told reporters. “H.R. 8 will be on the floor of the Senate, and we will see where everybody stands.”

The Senate is expected to take up the two House-passed bills individually. The background check measure received the most support from Republicans in the House.

The other measure would extend the time federal investigators have to perform background checks from three days to 10 days. Two House Republicans voted for it.

Each bill would need 60 votes to make it through the Senate, meaning 10 Republicans would have to cross the aisle to overcome a legislative filibuster.

Some Senate Democrats say they’re already holding conversations with Republicans.

“I’m talking to senators across the aisle, but the real difference-makers in this debate are the survivors, students, and family members who have made this issue a movement,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told The Hill about his plan for getting Republican support.

“The most powerful advocates for change are the people who have personal stories to share about how a background check could have saved someone they love — that’s who my Republican colleagues have to answer to,” he added.

The NRA’s weakened state is also adding optimism to gun control advocates.

The once powerful pro-gun lobbying group filed for bankruptcy and announced in January that it will reincorporate in Texas and leave New York. It’s also facing a civil suit from New York Attorney General Letitia James (D).

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday said President Biden “will of course be talking to leaders and members of Congress about how to move forward with gun safety measures,” adding that it’s a priority.

A day earlier, Psaki said Biden is “personally committed” to addressing gun violence when asked about if he believes the Senate can pass the two bills.

“I expect he will look for opportunities to be engaged and advocate for why these are not political issues; these are commonsense efforts to keep our children safe, keep our country safe and, you know, ensure that we are, you know, reducing gun violence in the country,” she said.

Advocacy groups such as Everytown, March for Our Lives, Brady, Moms Demand Action and Sandy Hook Promise say they’re encouraged by Biden’s commitment to tackle gun control.

White House Director of the Office of Public Engagement Cedric Richmond told advocates last week that the administration wants to see the two bills make it to Biden’s desk.

“H.R. 8 is important to us, Charleston loophole is important to us. We look forward to signing it, we look forward to getting involved to make sure we can sign it,” he said.

The shooter at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, a self-described white supremacist who killed nine Black parishioners, was able to purchase a firearm legally despite an arrest on his record, which did not show up in his background check during the three-day waiting period.

Advocates held a virtual march Thursday in hopes of building momentum for the House-passed legislation in the Senate. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who authored the Senate version of H.R. 8, moderated the event.

“Now the job is to bring this bill to the Senate and get it done. [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell [R-Ky.] would not bring any anti-gun legislation to the Senate over the past five years,” Murphy said.

The Democratic-led House previously passed the background check and Charleston bills in February 2019, but they never received a vote in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Years earlier, in 2013, the Senate took up bipartisan background check legislation sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), just months after the 2012 shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Murphy’s home state.

But the measure fell just a few votes short of the 60-vote threshold needed to advance.

If the House-passed version comes to the Senate floor, it may lose at least one Republican who was previously supportive.

Toomey’s office last week said that while he still supports the provisions in the 2013 measure, the recent House-passed legislation is not targeted enough to win his vote.

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