WASHINGTON — Lawmakers from both parties said the prospects for major gun control legislation advancing in a divided Congress are slim even as President Joe Biden said he’s exhausted what he can do to address gun violence through executive action.
It appears the nation’s latest mass shooting – a massacre at a Christian school in Nashville – could turn into a familiar story: Calls for sweeping gun reform, followed by inaction.
Joe Biden: No more options without Congress
- Renewing push: Biden renewed his push for Congress to reinstate the nation’s ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, which expired in 2004 after 10 years as law, following Monday’s deadly shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville. He also wants Congress to close loopholes that allow firearms dealers to skirt gun background checks.
‘Weapons of war’: “Why in God’s name do we allow these weapons of war on our streets and our schools?” Biden said Tuesday. “I never thought when I started my public life that guns would be the No. 1 killer of children in America.”
Biden looks to Congress: After taking multiple executive actions on guns in his first two years in office, Biden said he’s exercised the “full extent” of his executive authority on guns. “The Congress has to act.”
Recent history suggests a legislative long shot
But a ban on assault weapons lacks the votes in Republican-led House. And it even faces an uphill fight in the Democratic-led Senate despite a series of mass shootings that has again shined a spotlight on access to AR-15s and other semi-automatic weapons.
Following mass shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas, the House under Democratic control last year voted narrowly to approve a Democratic-backed assault weapons ban by a 217-213 vote.
Democrats no longer have a House majority, and nothing from House Republicans since the Nashville shooting suggests they’re willing to flip their opposition.
Last year’s bill was never taken up by the Senate, lacking an unreachable bar of 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster. Yet it was not even clear whether all Democratic senators supported the legislation – and that remains the case in a Senate Democrats now control 51-49.
‘Not the answer’: What Republicans are saying on guns after Nashville attack
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise accused Biden and Democrats of politicizing the Nashville shooting with their calls of an assault weapons ban. “All they want to do is take guns away from law-abiding citizens before they even know the facts,” he said during a news conference Tuesday. “And that’s not the answer.”
House Republicans in Tennessee, site of the latest mass shooting, remain opposed to tighter gun regulations. “We’re not gonna fix it,” U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., told reporters Monday. “Criminals are going to be criminals.”
Several Republicans expressed greater concerns about the transgender status of the shooting suspect, 28-year-old Audrey Hale, than the assault-style weapons used in the attack. “If early reports are accurate that a trans shooter targeted a Christian school, there needs to be a lot of soul searching on the extreme left,” Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, tweeted. “Giving in to these ideas isn’t compassion, it’s dangerous.”
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., called on federal law enforcement to investigate the shooting as a religious hate crime. “This murderous rampage, this taking of innocent life was a horrific crime, but more specifically, it was a hate crime,” he said on the House floor Tuesday.
A glimmer of hope for gun control activists?
Despite long-standing disagreements on guns, a bipartisan group of lawmakers last year approved legislation after the Uvalde and Buffalo shootings that – although more modest than Biden’s preference – provided incentives for states to adopt red-flag gun laws and enhanced background checks on young buyers.
The moment suggests a glimmer of hope for gun control activists after Nashville’s shooting but probably not at the scale they want.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who helped pass the bipartisan gun bill, said the Senate doesn’t have enough votes to go any further. “I would say we’ve gone about as far as we can go unless somebody identifies some area that we didn’t address.”
He said Biden’s proposed assault weapon ban repeats talking points, lacks support in Congress and “would require the confiscation of 16 million semiautomatic weapons that are owned by law-abiding citizens.”
Could Democrats force a Senate vote on assault weapons ban?
- Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who has led the push for gun reform in the Senate, told Punchbowl News that Senate Democrats should at some point consider forcing a vote on an assault weapons ban to see where senators stand. “Mass shootings dropped significantly when the 1994 ban went into effect, and then spiked when the ban expired.”
- Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, though, was noncommittal on bringing a bill to the floor. “We’re working hard to get enough votes to pass it,” he said.
- Democrats don’t seem encouraged about legislation for universal gun background checks either. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said he’d like to take up a bill to expand background checks, but added, “I’m a realist.”
Contributing: Candy Woodall
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.