House Democrats pushing for gun control say they know they face a losing battle

Gun Rights

House Democrats have slim hope that the onslaught of mass shootings and school shootings in 2023 will push their colleagues across the aisle to pass stricter gun control laws.

Some of Congress’s most adamant gun reformers are facing facts that last month’s school shooting in Nashville, where three children and three adults were shot and killed by a gunman, may not be enough to push Republicans toward stronger checks on firearms and restrictions on who can buy them.

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Democrats are basing their losing battle on the inaction of Republicans after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which a single gunman killed 26 people, 20 of them being students.

“I’m the least cynical person in this building. But you know, Sandy Hook happened 20 miles from my house, and I thought: This changes everything. And, of course, it changed very little,” Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) told the Hill. “I’m just devastated that these things are just going to keep happening.”


Jim Himes
House Select Committee on Intelligence ranking member Rep. Jim Himes speaks during the committee’s annual open hearing on worldwide threats, at the Capitol in Washington, March 9, 2023.

Congress passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in 2022 following the school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, but it did not go nearly as far as Democrats hoped in toughening up red flag laws and restrictions on assault-style weapons.

Republicans are mostly united against any new restrictions on the sale or ownership of firearms, which goes against the wishes of a majority of voters, including GOP supporters and independents.

A Pew Research poll from 2021 showed that roughly 53% favored stricter gun laws. In June 2022, a month after the Uvalde shooting, a Morning Consult/Politico poll recorded a record high: 68% were in favor of stricter gun control laws. In February 2023, 63% responded to a Gallup poll indicating they were dissatisfied with current gun control laws.

Despite the expected opposition from Republicans and a House minority, Democrats are looking to introduce a series of gun control reforms over the next few weeks, including background checks, red flag laws, an assault-style weapons ban, and more.

To push their bills to the floor, the Democrats will need to invoke a discharge petition, which requires a simple House majority, 218 members, to force votes on bills that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is unlikely to consider. With this, only five Republicans would need to join the Democrats in moving the bills forward.


Biden Guns
President Joe Biden signs into law S. 2938, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act gun safety bill, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Saturday, June 25, 2022. First lady Jill Biden looks on at right.

Democrats have an asset in Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), who is the lead sponsor of a background check proposal. However, several centrist Republicans, such as Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Fred Upton (R-MI), are no longer serving in Congress, which could make appealing to GOP lawmakers to work across the aisle more difficult.

“Pretty hard to count to five [Republicans] in that group. I can count to two or three,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) said just after the Nashville shooting. “Lots of interest, lots of emotion. But the math is a problem in this House.”

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) said that while Democrats can promote tougher gun laws through “acts of defiance and messaging,” it is unlikely to move Republicans from their perch.

“If they didn’t do anything after Sandy Hook, what makes us think they’re going to do anything now?” Quigley said.

He added that attempts for a discharge petition would likely be for nothing.

“No. Sad but true,” he said of whether Republicans would sign a petition. “You can talk about it, you can use a discharge petition, you can try any procedural thing you want.”

Two different views emerged following the Nashville shooting, which marked 17 school shootings in the United States in 2023 and 376 school shootings since the Columbine High School shooting in April 1999.

Democrats immediately decried assault-style weapons and a lack of gun control restrictions, while Republicans were quick to assess mental health and the effects of hormone therapy on transgender people. The Nashville shooter was Audrey Hale, a 28-year-old who identified as transgender. GOP leaders also called for armed law enforcement at schools across the country, as the private Christian Covenant School did not have any armed security.


Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump points to the crowd during at the National Rifle Association Convention in Indianapolis, Friday, April 14, 2023.

“It just seems like on the other side, all they want to do is take guns away from law-abiding citizens before they even know the facts,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) told ABC News following the Covenant shooting. “We’ve talked about the need to improve mental health in this country, and that’s been a driver of a lot of these shootings as well.”

Democrats’ attempts for gun restrictions will follow the National Rifle Association’s annual summit, which several Republican lawmakers attended, including GOP presidential hopefuls such as former President Donald Trump, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), and former Vice President Mike Pence.

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The current or prospective candidates haven’t argued that gun access was the cause of gun violence, instead calling for more guns to be funneled into schools and for people with mental illnesses to be institutionalized.

“It’s a scandal and a tragedy that year after year, Democrats in Washington continue to hold commonsense school safety measures hostage to their radical gun control agenda, which in virtually all cases would do nothing to prevent attacks by demented and disturbed individuals, of which we have many,” Trump said at the convention.

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