WASHINGTON — With President Donald Trump now on board, it would seem a no-brainer that Congress would swiftly approve legislation to strengthen the federal background check system as proposed by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas and Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.
The bill was introduced on November 15 — nine days after 26 people were killed at a church in rural Texas by a gunman who was able to buy his weapons despite a 2012 felony conviction (spousal and child abuse) that the Air Force failed to report to the federal database.
Under S. 2135 “Fix NICS Act of 2017,” federal agencies that fail to make such reports would be penalized and incentives would be given to states to improve their overall reporting to the background check system. The Senate has yet to take up the bill, which Murphy says is just a “first step” to addressing gun violence.
“No one should pretend this bill alone is an adequate response to this epidemic,” Murphy said.
The House actually approved a bill that contains the “Fix NICS” language on December 6 — but that vote illustrates the difficult path that any gun-related bill may have in Congress.
Rather than approve the “Fix NICS” bill on its own, the House combined it with H.R. 38, the “Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017,” which would allow concealed carry permits to be valid across state lines — a priority issue for the National Rifle Association.
The House bill was approved with only a handful of Democrats in support. The entire Connecticut delegation voted against it. U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, whose district includes Newtown, spoke on the floor against it saying it would lower standards nationally for gun safety by making it easier for domestic violence abusers, stalkers, and violent criminals to carry loaded, hidden guns across state lines.
“The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act is an outrage and an insult to the families in Newtown and to the hundreds of families who have lost loved ones to gun violence who are gathered here today at the Capitol for the fifth annual Vigil to End Gun Violence,” she said.
Esty noted that in the five-years since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, this was the first gun-related bill that had been brought up for a vote in the House.
Murphy, who represented Newtown when the shooting occurred, has routinely gone to the Senate floor to speak up for additional gun-safety measures to make it less likely for a repeat of Newtown. Murphy sees some hope that the latest mass shooting — which prompted Trump to back the Fix NICS bill — will move Congress to act.
That hope, he says, comes from the reaction from high school students who are demanding Congress act after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Students there are planning a “March for Our Lives” protest in Washington on March 24.
“No special interest group, no political agenda is more critical than timely passage of legislation to effectively address the gun violence issues that are rampant in our country,” says a mission statement for the event.
Murphy also notes that Trump’s support for the Fix NICS bill and Trump’s announced directive to the Justice Department to regulate so-called bump stocks — devices used to increase the rapid-fire of semi-automatic weapons used in the Las Vegas massacre — are signs that “we’ve hit a fulcrum point in this debate where politicians are, for the first time, scared on the political consequences of inaction on guns.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that Trump doesn’t support the use of bump stocks and expects further action on that issue in the coming days. She issued a statement Monday noting Trump’s support for the Fix NICS bill, though she emphasized that “discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered.”
Sanders struggled to identify any further specific gun-related legislation that the White House is considering in response to the mass shootings, saying instead that the president is making mental illness a priority.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wasn’t optimistic anything would get done.
“Unfortunately, this has all the hallmarks of a classic bait-and-switch,” Malloy said Tuesday. “We need more than just regulations — we need to make this the law. In Connecticut, we are going to pass a law banning bump stocks and we firmly believe that the federal government should do the same.”
Meanwhile, support among American voters for stricter gun laws is at its highest levels since the Quinnipiac University Poll began focusing on this issue following the Sandy Hook massacre: 67 percent of voters support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons; 83 percent support a mandatory waiting period for all gun purchases; and 92 percent support universal background checks.
“If you think Americans are largely unmoved by the mass shootings, you should think again. Support for stricter gun laws is up nearly 19 points in little more than 2 years,” Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said. “In the last two months, some of the biggest surges in support for tightening gun laws comes from demographic groups you may not expect, independent voters, men, and whites with no college degree.”