California Democrats push Congress, again, for gun control votes


Frustrated House Democrats with limited ability to influence the congressional agenda tried for the dozenth time Tuesday to force a gun-control vote.

Specifically, lawmakers used a procedural move in an attempt to get their colleagues to vote to prevent people on the FBI’s terrorist watch list from being able to purchase a gun. Given Republican control of Congress and a years-long logjam on anything related to guns, the push was symbolic. 

But it was the second emotional and tense moment for Democrats who have repeatedly pushed for the provision and other changes to gun laws in the months since Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) and other California members first stalled House floor action in the days after the San Bernardino shooting in an effort to raise the same issue.

It came in the wake of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, and as the California Legislature considered its own package of strict gun-control measures during a debate that centered around the massacre in Orlando.

FULL COVERAGE of the shooting »

Democrats, many wearing rainbow ribbons on their lapels in tribute to the 49 people slain in the gay nightclub Sunday morning, were visibly angry throughout the day as the effort failed — again — on a party-line vote. Only one Democrat, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, joined Republicans. 

Thompson called Congress’ inaction cowardice and an embarrassment.

“We’ve had moments of silence ad nauseam, but I’ll tell you what we haven’t had, we haven’t had one single vote on any piece of legislation to address the issue of gun-violence prevention,” Thompson told reporters Tuesday. “We have not had one single vote on any piece of legislation that tries to make sure that we do everything possible to keep people who shouldn’t have guns from getting guns.”

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) told reporters that Democrats are frustrated that no legislation has been brought up for a vote despite repeated shootings.

As Monday’s moment of silence ended for the victims in Orlando, several Democrats yelled out their frustration to House Speaker Paul Ryan, demanding to know when he would call a vote. Others walked out of the chamber. Becerra said emotions were still high in Democrats’ weekly meeting Tuesday morning.

“We can’t just have moments of silence when we see American lives perish,” Becerra said. “By God, this is the people’s House. If we can’t stand up, and then do something, then we are in trouble.”

Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) said he is “not optimistic” Congress would pass any gun-violence legislation in response to the Orlando nightclub shooting. The no-fly list issue, in fact, was on the House floor on Dec. 2, as Aguilar first learned of the San Bernardino shooting in his district.

“Look, we’ve spent months talking about this issue. I’d love to see some action, I think that Americans want to see some common-sense measures that we can take, and I’ll continue to advocate for those,” he said.

Aguilar said like others who had seen tragedy back home had reached out to him, he called Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) quickly after learning about the attack in her district. 

A shooting back home »

“Obviously this is a small club of members of Congress that is growing, sadly,” he said.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) said in an interview he thinks the FBI should also be notified if someone who was investigated or was once on the no-fly list suddenly buys weapons or ammunition in large quantities. Schiff, the highest ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said he’s not sure if that would require legislation to accomplish.

“Let the FBI determine what use to make of that information. It may very well warrant a reopening of the investigation, certainly if it indicates that someone is about to actualize radical thoughts that they’ve expressed in the past,” he said.

House Republicans plan to repackage three already-approved bills dealing with terrorism recruitment and send them to the Senate as a single bill, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday.

"As we mourn and pray, we must also respond to the threat ISIS poses to our homeland. We must secure our nation from terrorism and prevent radicalization here at home so the American people can be safe and live without fear," McCarthy said in a statement.

Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford) said Congress should focus on mental health and terrorist threats rather than new gun laws. He suggested the Democratic efforts were a “diversion" and that it is a "problem” that lawmakers are “trying to turn this into a gun debate.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement Tuesday that Congress should reconsider the military-style assault weapon ban, and she may put forward legislation to do so herself. Congress banned the manufacture, sale and possession of semi-automatic, or so-called assault weapons, in 1994, but allowed the ban to expire in 2004.

Feinstein pushed to have the ban reinstated after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

“If Congress had approved the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013, the manufacture of these weapons would have been prohibited, and I believe the Orlando gunman would have been prevented from buying the Sig Sauer MCX,” she said. “While it’s true that an assault-weapons ban would not stop every attack or shooting, it’s clear that a weapon of war that can kill 49 people and wound so many others does not belong on our streets.”

President Obama also called for an assault weapons ban in a speech Tuesday.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) made her case during a passionate speech on the House floor Tuesday morning.

“The American people are too familiar with the AR-15, a weapon designed to hunt Americans in their most vulnerable places, the classroom, the movie theater, the nightclub,” she said.

Rep. Jackie Speier talks about gun violence after a shooting in an Orlando nightclub that killed 49 people.

Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Los Angeles) said he is looking for new co-sponsors on his legislation to change the chamber’s rules to require a congressional hearing each time its members stand in silence to recognize gun-violence victims.

“It’s overdue that we actually do something and it’s incredibly frustrating,” he said. “We’ve got to stop being silent on even discussing the issue.”

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