After Nashville, Democrats want to force a floor vote on assault weapons ban. They probably can’t

Gun Rights

America and the world woke up on Tuesday morning with an especially agonizing case of déjà-vu: Three children under age 10 and three adults were shot dead yesterday at a Nashville school. The apparent shooter was a 28-year-old former student armed with an assault-style rifle, who was then killed by police. It was the 128th mass shooting in the U.S. so far in 2023. According to Pew Research, 63% of Americans want Congress to pass more gun control laws, Republicans, who control a narrow majority in the House of Representatives and a filibuster-proof minority in the U.S. Senate, are unlikely to pass any.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who has been an outspoken advocate for gun control since the Sandy Hook shootings in his state more than 10 years ago, has co-sponsored the current legislation — originally introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California — that would ban assault rifles. On Monday, Murphy suggested that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., should bring his legislation to the Senate floor and force a vote while the world is watching. 

“I think America wants to see where people stand on some of these issues,” Murphy said. 

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Other Democrats also sounded calls for additional measures.

“We can’t say that we’ve solved this problem or even addressed it seriously when incidents like today in Nashville, Tennessee, continue in America,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Monday. “We need to pass more reforms.”

In an interview earlier this month for “Salon Talks” about his role negotiating the 2022 passage of a historic bipartisan gun reform measure, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, Murphy told Salon the measure has so far been a success. 

“Has it made a difference? The short answer is it has. A group of us went out to the National Criminal Background Check system a couple of weeks ago, Republicans and Democrats, and got a briefing. Lots of people have been denied weapons that absolutely shouldn’t have them,” Murphy said. 

“A lot of young buyers who were in crisis who were going to buy a weapon who no doubt were going to use that weapon to either kill themselves or to kill others have been stopped from getting that weapon because of the law that we passed. That’s just one example of the lives that have undoubtedly been saved already by this legislation.”

On Monday night, Murphy told CNN he still believes in the possibility of bipartisan cooperation on additional measures. 

“I understand that was a difficult vote for some Republicans — the first time that they ever crossed the NRA,” he said. “But I think they’ve seen that the sky hasn’t fallen.” Referring to Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Republican who helped pass last year’s legislation, Murphy said, “I take him at his word that he’s continuing to show interest in finding common ground where we can find it and maybe we’ll be able to get there and build on the success of last year’s bill.” 

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In the wake of the Nashville school shooting on Monday, President Biden again called on Congress to pass a ban on assault weapons.

“We have to do more to stop gun violence. It’s ripping our communities apart,” Biden said from the White House. “Ripping at the very soul of the nation. And we have to do more to protect our schools so they aren’t turned into prisons. I call on Congress, again, to pass my assault weapons ban.” 

Biden essentially echoed statements made earlier on Monday by First Lady Jill Biden and White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

“Once again,” Jean-Pierre told reporters, “the president calls on Congress to do something before another child is senselessly killed.”

Cornyn, who led GOP negotiations during the passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, called Biden’s remarks “the same old tired talking points.” 

The president was “not offering any new solutions or ideas,” Cornyn told CNN. ”If he does, I think we should consider them, but so far, I haven’t heard anything.” Asked whether he believed there were Republican votes for further gun reform efforts, Cornyn said, ”I do not.” 

On extending background checks, Cornyn added, “I would say we’ve gone about as far as we can go, unless somebody identifies some area that we didn’t address.”

As Al Weaver of The Hill reports, other leading Republicans, including Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., threw more cold water on any possibility of greater support for gun reforms. 

Are Republicans open to more gun reform? The short answer is no: “I would say we’ve gone about as far as we can go,” said Sen. John Cornyn.

Earlier this month, Biden signed an executive order that rolled out implementation plans for the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which included increasing the number of background checks required to buy guns, cracking down on law-breaking gun dealers, promoting secure firearm storage and giving executive agencies more muscle to monitor gun trades and shootings. 

House GOP leadership has consistently denounced additional gun reforms and promised united opposition. According to a Tuesday report in The Hill, nothing about that has changed and it’s unclear whether House Democrats could even force a vote, but may not have the necessary support. 

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., reportedly suggested during a closed-door Democratic caucus meeting that her party should consider a “discharge petition,” under which a simple House majority could force the reform measures to the floor for a vote. Even so, Democrats would need five Republican votes to make that happen, which does not appear likely.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., summarized the problem: “Pretty hard to count to five in that group; I can count to two or three.”

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