WASHINGTON (AP) – Senate Democrats are preparing a legislative push to curb guns, a week after a mass shooting at an Oregon community college refocused attention on the nation’s toll of firearms deaths.
Republicans controlling Congress have shown scant interest in restricting guns and the Democratic effort has little chance of success. But their drive could keep the issue alive during next year’s elections, driving up support from sympathetic voters and contributors while complicating GOP senators’ re-election campaigns in some closely divided states.
In a letter to fellow Democrats, Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., wrote that their effort “will be a rallying point for a public that is eager for congressional action and will be the basis for future legislation that we will demand” receives a Senate vote.
Democrats would use procedural delays to thwart legislation if Republicans refuse to allow votes on the gun proposals, a Democratic aide said Wednesday who wasn’t authorized to discuss the plans publicly and requested anonymity. Schumer and Stabenow are leaders of Senate Democrats’ messaging efforts.
Democrats said their effort would include broadening federal background checks, now required only for sales by federally licensed firearms dealers, to cover all purchases at gun shows and online. A bipartisan version of that plan, opposed by the National Rifle Association, was blocked in 2013 by Republicans and a few Democrats, months after the fatal shooting of 20 students and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
They said they would propose making it harder for people to buy guns if their background check is not completed.
Currently, if a background check is still not complete after three days – often because the FBI is awaiting information from local law enforcement agencies – the sale is allowed. Democrats said they would extend that period but hadn’t decided yet for how long.
They also said they would seek to add all domestic abusers to the list of those prohibited from purchasing firearms, and make it a federal offense to be a straw purchaser, or someone who buys a firearm for somebody else.
Today, people subject to court restraining orders or convicted of domestic violence may not purchase firearms. But there are loopholes, such as for abusive dating partners.
A gunman killed nine people last week at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Authorities said Wednesday that the shooter, Christopher Harper-Mercer, killed himself in a room where many of his victims lay after he was wounded by plainclothes detectives.
President Barack Obama plans to travel to Roseburg on Friday to meet victims’ families. As he has after several mass shootings, he has called on Congress to strengthen gun restrictions but expressed frustration with lawmakers’ inaction.
Democrats fell five votes short of moving their background check expansion through the Senate two years ago. Thanks to retirements and losses in the 2014 elections, they now are probably 11 votes shy of the support they’d need to succeed.
Republicans running the House have shown no interest in even permitting votes on the issue.