Pa. U.S. House lawmakers split along party lines on gun safety votes

(Josh Locatis/Flickr)

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. 

Pennsylvania has three representatives on the committee: Democratic Reps. Mary Gay Scanlon and Madeleine Dean voted in favor of all three bills; Republican Rep. Guy Reschenthaler voted against all three. 

On Tuesday, Dean, D-4th District, wrote on Twitter that the House panel “will be sending legislation to the floor to eliminate high capacity magazines, disarm hate, and keep guns from anyone that is a danger to themselves or others.

 

All three measures are likely to pass the Democratic-controlled 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. 

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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,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said. “We must approach this issue with a range of solutions and with a sense of urgency.” 

President Donald Trump as well as some Republicans in the 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. 

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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 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 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 Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz. “We also want to make sure that we’re not taking away people’s constitutional right without due process.” 

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. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.,  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

On Twitter, Scanlon, D-5th District, called on the Senate to get behind the bills.

“In schools across the country, kids returned to classrooms this fall with empty desks — classrooms where their friends would be learning and playing — but for the scourge of gun violence. The House is doing its job. [McConnell] needs to buck up and do his,” she wrote.

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. 

An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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