U.S. House panel advances gun control bills along party lines, as Whitmer joins govs. in urging passage

By: - September 11, 2019 10:39 am

Demonstrators hold up signs representing the 11,400 victims of gun violence discussed by congressional members during a press conference with Democratic lawmakers on gun violence, along the east front of the U.S. Capitol on June 20, 2019 in Washington, DC. Republicans have blocked the Universal Background Checks bill in the Senate and Democrats are demanding a vote on the bill that would require background checks before almost all gun purchases, including private sales. | Tom Brenner/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House Judiciary Committee committee advanced three gun safety bills on Tuesday, despite unified Republican opposition. 

The committee voted along partisan lines to approve “red flag” legislation that seeks to limit access to firearms for those deemed a risk to themselves or others. The committee also voted to advance legislation that would ban high-capacity magazines and another measure to prohibit people convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes from possessing firearms. 

The three gun control measures are likely to pass the Democratic-led U.S. House, but are certain to face a steeper climb in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Republican lawmakers have blocked efforts to enact tougher gun laws in recent years. 


Congressional Democrats have made gun control a centerpiece of their agenda this fall in the wake of a string of mass shootings that killed dozens of people across the country last month. 

Gretchen Whitmer | Andrew Roth

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is one of 12 governors across the country to a sign a letter this week imploring both President Donald Trump and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to support red flag, universal background check and assault weapon ban legislation.

“In 2019, over 10,000 people have been shot and killed, and 570 people were killed by a gun in the past two weeks alone,” the governors write. “Thoughts and prayers won’t fix this disturbing trend. Enough is enough. Public safety is the first and most important responsibility of government, and the failure to act to protect the public is a failure in leadership. As Governors, it is our responsibility to listen to our communities’ calls for action. However, a patchwork of state laws will never be a substitute for coherent national policy.”

Other governors signing on are from New York, California, New Mexico, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Oregon, New Jersey, Illinois, Rhode Island. Washington and Delaware.

Congressional Democrats said they don’t expect any single piece of legislation to fix the problem, but they pointed to these bills and background check legislation that the House passed in February as important efforts to curb gun violence. 


“We are acting because of the urgent need to respond to the daily toll of gun violence in our communities, whether they are mass shootings or not, and whether or not they make national headlines,” said Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.). “We must approach this issue with a range of solutions and with a sense of urgency.” 

Trump, as well as some Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate, have indicated that they may also be willing to back gun control reforms, but Tuesday night’s vote offers the latest indication that bipartisan compromise on the historically polarizing issue won’t come easily. 

House lawmakers argued for several hours into the evening Tuesday about the proper legislative response to the widespread gun violence that kills roughly 35,000 Americans annually. 

The Brady Campaign’s Mattie Scott (C) and Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA), both of who lost sons to gun violence, in Washington, DC. During the hearing, titled ‘Preventing Gun Violence: A Call to Action.’ | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The red flag law, H.R. 1236, would incentivize states to enact laws that allow courts to seize firearms from people deemed threats to themselves or others. It would also incorporate language from U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) to set up a procedure for obtaining so-called Extreme Risk Protection Orders in federal court.

McBath — whose son, Jordan Davis, was shot and killed in 2012 when he was 17 following an argument about loud music — told her colleagues Tuesday that “inaction is unacceptable.” 

“I know the pain of losing a child to gun violence and not anyone in this room or anyone in this country should ever be faced with that pain,” she said. “It is our responsibility to prevent this suffering, to bring an end to this constant heartbreak.” 

Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, questioned whether the legislation before the committee would properly address gun violence. They also cited concerns about gun owners’ due process rights as they declared their opposition to the Democratic-backed measures. 

“We need to work in a bipartisan fashion so we actually get it passed into law and do things that will actually make a difference,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.). “We also want to make sure that we’re not taking away people’s constitutional right without due process.” 


U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said Republicans are using “absurd rhetoric” to argue that “when you have reasonable common-sense gun safety regulation to keep people from getting guns who shouldn’t have them, like felons and fugitives and unstable people that somehow we’re violating the Second Amendment.” 

He implored the GOP: “Let’s get together across party lines. This is for the American people.” 

Prospects for gun control legislation in the Senate remained murky as lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill this week after a month-long recess. 

McConnell said Tuesday that the White House is preparing a proposal to respond to recent shootings and that he’ll decide to proceed after seeing Trump’s plan, the Hill reported


U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters that he’s in discussions with Trump and his colleagues about stricter background check legislation, but he stressed that he doesn’t think H.R. 8 has a chance at being passed in the Senate. 

“The president has been very engaged. He’s been very receptive,” Toomey said. “He is open to doing something in this space, and from my conversations with him and confirmed by his staff, he has not yet made a decision regarding exactly what he’s going to support.”

Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this story.

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.