Democrats hope narrow approach to guns will pressure Republicans to act

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Even before Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee put the finishing touches to their self-proclaimed “omnibus” package of gun laws, a group of relative newcomers issued a call Thursday for a change of course.

Bringing a massive, multi-pronged bill to the full House would give Republicans the chance to find something they oppose in the larger package and vote no. Instead, these young Democrats, mostly from swing districts, want to apply maximum pressure on House Republicans and have asked to vote individually on each element of the proposal, including some that deal very directly with the mass shootings in New York and Texas last month.

“As we focus on realizing a struggling America, passing each bill individually will ensure that every common-sense measure we propose reaches the U.S. Senate with the maximum bipartisan support it can muster. , recorded by individual votes,” wrote the Democrats, led by Representatives Chrissy Houlahan (Pennsylvania) and Abigail Spanberger (Virginia), two members of the class of 2018 that alienated the majority of Republicans.

Late Thursday, in a short but energetic tweet, a high-profile former federal prosecutor summed up the tactical approach more directly. ‘Raise the age,’ said Preet Bharara, the Manhattan prosecutor fired by President Donald Trump in 2017, referring to proposals to raise the minimum age to purchase certain semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21 year.

These Democrats believe the traditional approach to crises, compiling comprehensive bills that attempt to tackle multiple facets of a particular problem, has become a thing of the past in the past decade of Congressional action. Or, in most cases, congressional inaction.

Rather than too big to fail, these mega-propos morph into something too big to succeed. Lawmakers and lobbyists are slicing these offerings of 1,000 pages or more apart to find a particular policy weakness, then watching the sweeping legislation slowly die amid various points of opposition.

Immigration and border security proposals, including sweeping proposals in 2006, 2007 and 2013 and several attempts at negotiations under the Trump administration, routinely die from their own massive weight on Capitol Hill.

This proved to be the case with the recent Democratic agenda when President Biden unsuccessfully tried to persuade lawmakers to approve a roughly $2 trillion package that would have impacted nearly every aspect of the national agenda.

Many individual proposals were popular with voters, such as reducing the cost of prescription drugs and providing new dental benefits to seniors through Medicare, but the overall package scared off many intermediate voters whenever Biden or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) promised it would be “transformational.”

On Friday night, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) unveiled a compromise approach on how to debate gun proposals. Votes will take place on each proposal, then a final vote on the massive combined package, likely beginning in the next few days in a still undefined process.

“The House will vote on each title as well as whether to pass the entire bill to have Republicans registered on each of these gun safety issues,” Hoyer wrote to his colleagues. He said aloud what young Democrats were hesitant to declare officially: there is a political gain to be had from voting on every proposal.

Democrats are hoping these votes will either produce a solid amount of Republican support, well above single-digit tallies in recent years, or give them new political ammunition to use against a few dozen Republican incumbents in largely districts. suburbs where Biden has seen his endorsement ratings drop but where these gun proposals are hugely popular.

Withdrawing the proposal to raise the federal age from 18 to 21 to buy a semi-automatic rifle and requiring every member to vote will be a politically difficult vote for some Republicans.

In the shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, each suspected shooter was an 18-year-old who had legally purchased an AR-15 type weapon. In Uvalde, the alleged shooter bought his semi-automatic weapon a day after he turned 18, and within three days of that birthday he had purchased 375 rounds. A few days later, he killed 19 elementary school students and two teachers.

In 2019 and again in 2021, House Democrats approved two gun proposals intended to provide more thorough background checks on those buying guns. Only eight Republicans have joined all but one Democrat in supporting the popular measure, with many Republicans rejecting the proposal because many mass shootings involve legally purchased guns that would have been cleared by every possible background check.

The background check bill lacks enough Republican support to clear the 60-vote hurdle needed to end debate in the Senate, leaving it in political limbo with a clear majority but unable to overcome a filibuster . But in the aftermath of the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings, it will likely be harder for Republicans to oppose raising the purchase age for semi-automatic weapons.

Federal law sets the minimum age to buy handguns at 21, but 18 for rifles, even high-capacity ones like the AR-15, but some states have raised the minimum age to 21 , including Florida in the aftermath of the 2018 Valentine’s Day mass shooting in Parkland where a 19-year-old former high school student killed 17 people.

According to Hoyer, the House will likely start the gun debate with a proposal to provide funding and advice to encourage every state to pass “red flag” laws that allow law enforcement to seize firearms from people who have demonstrated they pose a threat to themselves or others.

After improved background checks, red flag laws and raising the age to buy semi-automatic weapons are the most popular proposals, say experts working in groups trying to curb gun violence . A Reuters poll late last month found that 72% of Americans support the age limit and 70% approve of the red flag laws.

If a significant number of Republicans join Democrats in some of those votes, it could boost the momentum of bipartisan negotiations in the Senate that have also focused on red flag laws and some other new gun restrictions.

For Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), it’s been a long effort of stops and starts, always ending in failure, since leading negotiations after a 20-year-old in Newtown killed 20 elementary school students and six educators. with a legally purchased assault weapon.

“I failed a lot in these negotiations. But these talks feel different, because I think members on both sides realize there is a real risk to the legitimacy of government if we don’t act,” Murphy told The Washington Post in an interview published Friday. . “All I know is that there are signs all around me that this moment is different. Whether that will cause the impasse to be broken, I don’t know. But there’s more. more signs that this might be the time than at any other time in the past 10 years.

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