In the month since the El Paso and Dayton Shootings, we’ve seen another wave of demands that Congress finally do something on gun violence. Yet even though one house of Congress, the House of Representatives, has already passed two background checks bills, the Senate has yet to vote on anything. And while the House is now working on additional gun violence prevention legislation, neither President Donald Trump nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) will commit to anything specific.
Today we heard more from two Members of Congress (one local, one visiting from elsewhere) about what they’re doing to break the logjam in Washington as they were hearing from activists on the ground about how they’re changing the landscape on gun violence prevention.
“The problem in Washington right now is Mitch McConnell. He has legislation on his desk, but he keeps hiding behind the President and the gun lobby. […] Congress acts on behalf of the American people, and it’s his time to act.”
– Rep. Ted Deutch
Last week, the House Judiciary Committee passed the Keep Americans Safe Act, sponsored by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Florida) and co-sponsored by Nevada’s own Reps. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) and Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas), to ban (10+ round) high-capacity magazines. In addition, U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D) and Jacky Rosen (D) are co-sponsors of the companion Senate bill that’s yet to receive a hearing in that chamber. Today Deutch, who represents Parkland in Congress, joined Titus and a group of local gun violence prevention activists at Titus’ district office at Las Vegas City Hall to talk about where their bill goes next… And for that matter, what’s next for gun violence prevention on Capitol Hill.
For starters, Titus and Deutch both expressed their frustration over the typical media framing that “Congress isn’t doing anything.” Instead, Titus pointed out, “Democrats in the House are acting. It’s McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate who are not acting.” Later on, Deutch added, “It’s been over 200 days since we sent the universal background checks bills to the Senate. McConnell hasn’t taken it up. People keep losing their lives every day those bills sit there.”
And like Titus, and for that matter Rep. Susie Lee when she spoke with us last month, Deutch reiterated, “The problem in Washington right now is Mitch McConnell. He has legislation on his desk, but he keeps hiding behind the President and the gun lobby. […] Congress acts on behalf of the American people, and it’s his time to act.”
“Who would have ever thought in a ‘cowboy state’ like ours, you could pass this legislation, even background checks? If you can do it here, I’d say the country is ready.”
– Rep. Dina Titus
While Titus and Deutch had harsh words for U.S. Senate Republicans, they also had plenty of words of praise for Assembly Member Sandra Jauregui (D-Henderson) and the activists who passed a suite of gun violence prevention legislation through the Nevada Legislature earlier this year. As Titus noted, “It’s been in the states where the creative policies are being made. That’s certainly the case on gun violence.”
Titus then recalled her own prior service in the Nevada Legislature, and contrasted the past hostility to gun safety legislation to the current climate in Carson City: “Who would have ever thought in a ‘cowboy state’ like ours, you could pass this legislation, even background checks? If you can do it here, I’d say the country is ready.”
Jauregui spoke about the policies that became bills, and are now law after activists’ big push in Carson City: background checks expansion (SB 143), a state-level bump stock ban that’s more comprehensive than the Trump administration’s federal rules change (AB 291), the new “red flag law” (also AB 291), a new “safe storage” requirement for guns (also AB 291), and tightening the state’s rule prohibiting possession and public use while above the legal blood alcohol limit (also AB 291).
On bump stocks, Jauregui noted the importance of Nevada’s bump stock ban despite what Trump says about his federal rules change: “When gun manufacturers get creative and call bump stocks a different name, they will still be banned in Nevada.” And while Jauregui noted the policy changes that didn’t make it this past session, such as preemption repeal and a state-level high-capacity magazine ban akin to the federal Keep Americans Safe Act, Jauregui declared, “We didn’t get our entire wishlist, but we’ll be back in 2021.”
“We have to show our anger. We can’t let this be the new status quo in America.”
– Christiane Brown, Brady United Against Gun Violence
While the group talked plenty about legislation and policies, they also spoke about the presidential caucus that’s made Nevada a critical stop on the campaign trail. As they lamented the treatment this issue occasionally gets on the trail (see last Thursday’s debate for a prime example of such), they also praised the progress being made as Senators Kamala Harris’ (D-California) and Cory Booker’s (D-New Jersey) big moves on matters like “permit-to-purchase” gun licensing and repeal of gun manufacturers’ legal immunity have pushed most of the rest of the 2020 field to take bolder stances.
Battle Born Progress Executive Director Annette Magnus promised Titus and the rest of the table that they will do their part to keep up the pressure, noting, “I think anything is better than the current disaster we have in the White House, but that’s a very low bar.” Christiane Brown, a Reno based lobbyist for Brady United Against Gun Violence, agreed: “We are letting people die every single day due to gun violence.” She continued, “We have to show our anger. We can’t let this be the new status quo in America.”
Deutch agreed, though he also noted the progress that’s already being made in the form of a Democratic-run House that’s finally passing background checks bills and considering additional gun safety bills, such as an assault weapons ban that Deutch promised will get a hearing soon. As Deutch recalled, “For years, Rep. Titus and I served with individuals who thought they could sit back, send their thoughts and prayers, and get reelected while collecting their checks from the gun lobby. Some of them are now our former colleagues. They’re not there any more.”
Indeed, they’re not. But so long as Trump and McConnell continue to block the House Democrats’ bills, the stalemate persists on Capitol Hill. Activists in this room and across the nation are likely looking forward to the day when Trump and McConnell will no longer be in this position. And in the meantime, they’re expecting the Democrats running against Trump to step it up and make it clear how they plan to ensure Titus’ and Deutch’s bills finally become the law of the land.