- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Democrats took steps Tuesday to try to maintain political momentum on gun control, fearing short summer attention spans might sap their strength before Congress returns in September and derail their best chance in years to try to approve new restrictions.

House Democrats held a press conference to renew their demand that Republicans immediately reconvene the Senate and pass a background check bill that cleared the House six months ago.

Meanwhile, Charles E. Schumer of New York, the top Democrat in the Senate, is preparing a formal request to the White House asking President Trump to scratch his latest request for $5 billion in additional border wall money and to direct the money toward gun safety and anti-terrorism efforts.

“Republicans and this administration need to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to addressing gun violence and stopping the rise of domestic terrorism, especially stemming from white supremacy,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement.

Twin mass shootings this month in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, renewed the long-running debate over firearms. The case in El Paso adds an element of white nationalism to the conversation because police have linked that massacre to a racist manifesto complaining about the increasing Hispanic population in the U.S.

Just days before the shootings, senators left Washington for a five-week recess. The House had been gone for a week.

Democrats have demanded immediate action, and some have called for Congress to reconvene. The House has passed a gun background check bill on a near-party line vote, so the main burden is on the Republican-led Senate to take action.

That, Democrats say, falls to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

“We know exactly why he isn’t here. He’s waiting for the outrage to die down, for the headlines to change, for the people to turn the page to think about something else,” said Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr., Virginia Democrat.

He joined a handful of other House Democrats and gun control activists at the Capitol to press for action on the background check bill. That legislation would expand the current system, which covers gun transactions involving licensed dealers, to include nearly all trades, sales or gifts.

The bill cleared on a 240-190 vote in the House in February, but just eight Republicans backed it.

“Is it the solution to all this violence? It is not. But 95% of Americans support it because it’s a significant step to take,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

Mr. McConnell has suggested that reconvening his chamber would only lead to more partisan bickering. Instead, he has told three of his committee chairs to work on finding bipartisan solutions that could be passed in September when both chambers of Congress return to Washington.

Mr. Trump said Tuesday that he thinks Mr. McConnell “wants to do something.”

“He wants to do background checks, and I do too. I think a lot of Republicans do too,” the president said.

But Mr. Trump said he is not sure what kind of partnership he will find in Democrats.

“I don’t know, frankly, that the Democrats will get us there,” he told reporters.

Mr. McConnell did not voice support for any particular proposal when he announced his plans last week to have committee chairs pursue gun-related legislation.

Some Republicans, though, have questioned the kind of background check legislation Mr. Trump appears to be backing.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, said Sunday that the Democrats’ bill doesn’t solve the root of the problem and makes it harder for individuals to protect themselves and their loved ones.

Rather, he said, the focus should be on trying to use the current system to flag those who shouldn’t be able to obtain firearms.

Democrats said their background checks bill is only the beginning and that they hope to work on an assault weapons ban, an increase in the firearms purchase age to 21, and a “red flag” law to let the government confiscate guns in situations where someone is reported by friends, family or authorities to be temporary dangers.

Mr. Hoyer said the House Judiciary Committee will work on those issues, though he didn’t specify an exact timeline.

Mr. Schumer, meanwhile, said Mr. Trump can take action to shift the government’s priorities.

A source familiar with Mr. Schumer’s plans said he will suggest the $5 billion Mr. Trump requested in his fiscal year 2020 budget should be canceled and instead be used to expand the Homeland Security Department’s programs to counter violent extremists, to bolster the FBI’s domestic terrorism investigations and to fund gun violence research.

Mr. Schumer has also called for action on the House-passed background check bill and has said he will push for votes on other gun restriction proposals as well.

“The dual scourges of gun violence and violent white supremacist extremism in this country are a national security threat, plain and simple, and it’s time the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress starting treating them as such,” the senator said.

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