Ahead of a White House summit on guns Wednesday, Democrats called on President Trump to back expanded background checks — throwing their weight behind a measure that failed to advance through Congress after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Now, in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting that left 17 dead at a high school in Parkland, Fla., Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other top Democrats believe that Trump could help muscle through a measure that has long been opposed by the National Rifle Association and many Republican lawmakers.
Trump earlier this month tweeted support for “comprehensive” background checks, and Republican leaders have interpreted that as support for a narrow measure aimed at improving the reporting of disqualifying offenses to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.
But Democrats are looking at a much broader expansion of background checks, pushing legislation that “at minimum” would mandate them for all private gun sales — including those conducted at gun shows or over the Internet. Currently, only federally licensed firearm dealers must conduct such checks.
“It makes no sense that an individual who is denied a gun by a federally licensed dealer can simply visit a gun show or go online to purchase the same gun that they were denied at the store,” said the letter sent to Trump Wednesday, signed by Schumer and fellow Democratic senators Bill Nelson (Fla.), Chris Murphy (Conn.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.).
In 2013, just months after the Sandy Hook tragedy, a version of the legislation was proposed by Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.). It failed to advance on a 54-to-46 vote, falling short of the necessary 60. Five Democrats and 41 Republicans opposed it.
The NRA opposed the legislation at the time, arguing that it “will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools.”
Manchin and Toomey have expressed a willingness to revisit their legislation, and a number of senators who voted no in 2013 have said since the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, they might be willing to reconsider their positions.
“Were you to endorse legislation to require a background check on every gun purchase, without other poison pill provisions attached, we could finally move much closer toward the comprehensive system that you called for after the Stoneman Douglas attack,” the Democratic senators wrote.
For now, many lawmakers want to pass the narrower legislation targeting NICS, although that bill is still tangled up by objections in the Senate. GOP leaders aren’t eager to let the bill eat up Senate floor time unless it can pass, and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) is saying it’s unlikely that the measure will come to a vote anytime soon without a clearer path to passage.
“We’re working with those who’ve voiced concerns and talked about the art of the possible,” Cornyn said Wednesday. “The problem on this issue is, there’s so many conflicting demands that nothing happens. Reminds me of immigration in that sense. That would be unacceptable in my view.”
The senators attending the White House meeting Wednesday afternoon included Manchin, Toomey, Murphy, Klobuchar, Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah).
Invited House members include Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), Brian Mast (R-Fla.), Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), John Rutherford (R-Fla.), and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).
Several of the lawmakers have been touched by high-profile gun-related tragedies. Esty and Murphy represent victims of the Sandy Hook shooting. Deutch represents the Parkland area, while Murphy represents an area that includes the Orlando nightclub attacked by a terrorist-motivated gunman in 2016; Rubio represents both. Scalise was shot in June when a gunman opened fire on GOP lawmakers practicing in Alexandria, Va., for a charity baseball game.