Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has issued a stern message to fellow Democrats who may be reluctant to take on the powerful gun lobby in the wake of Tuesday’s massacre at an elementary school in Texas: Your Political Careers , she says, pale in comparison to protecting the lives of children.
In a letter to Democrats, Pelosi lamented the “indescribable grief” of the families of the young victims; urged Republicans to reconsider their past opposition to tougher gun laws; and promised that the House would act aggressively on its own set of proposals against gun violence, whether the Senate agrees or not.
Pelosi suggested tough votes could be ahead.
“[O]Our feelings and our moments of silence are not enough. We must act,” Pelosi wrote Wednesday night. “To members of Congress, I say: your political survival pales in comparison to the survival of America’s children.”
So far this cycle, Democratic leaders have moved fairly cautiously in their approach to gun reform measures.
While the House last year passed two bills aimed at strengthening the FBI’s background check system before gun sales — bills stalled in the Senate — they sidestepped more controversial proposals, including legislation to ban military-style semi-automatic rifles, such as those in the style of the AR-15.
These firearms were banned in 1994, but have become wildly popular in some parts of the country since that ban ended in 2004. And voting to ban them again — even if the effort failed in the Senate — could present a risk for incumbent House Democrats. facing tough re-election contests in purple districts.
Tuesday’s shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where a teenager armed with a semi-automatic rifle allegedly killed 19 children and two educators, could change the calculus.
The tragedy came 10 days after another shooting massacre at a Buffalo supermarket, where another gunman, who allegedly used a similar weapon, killed 10 people. And the combination of the two deadliest mass shootings of the year in a row has spurred House Democratic leaders into action.
The first step will be legislation designed to prevent gun violence by keeping guns out of the hands of potentially violent people. Sponsored by Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), whose son was killed in a shooting, the legislation would empower federal courts to issue “extreme risk” protective orders prohibiting the sale and possession of firearms to fire for people considered a threat to themselves or others. The House will vote on the bill in the second week of June, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced Wednesday.
It remains unclear what specific gun reform steps the House might take beyond McBath’s proposal. But Pelosi said the Uvalde tragedy prompted Democrats on several House committees — including the judiciary, rules and a special gun violence task force — to start weighing their options. She did not name them, but alluded to “strong” laws that restricted gun sales in years past.
“Repeatedly, the House Democrat has passed strong, sensible gun violence prevention legislation,” Pelosi wrote. “In the past, similar measures made law have been proven to reduce the sale of dangerous weapons and save lives. We can and must do it again.
Pelosi, who represents liberal San Francisco, is a longtime supporter of tougher gun laws. But as a leader of a diverse Democratic party for about two decades, she has also approached the issue cautiously at times, reflecting the concerns of centrist lawmakers in districts where Second Amendment rights are more inviolable.
In 2010, during Pelosi’s first term as president, liberal Democrats called for a hearing on expanding background checks. It was a difficult midterm cycle with control of the House at stake. The Liberals were denied.
This year, Democrats face another tough midterm cycle, when dozens of incumbents are vulnerable and the House is expected to shift to GOP control. In this environment, with Democrats controlling only a slim majority in the House, party leaders will need to carefully gauge the temperature of their caucus before introducing a gun bill. Even so, Pelosi expresses confidence in his ability to do so.
“As we have repeatedly promised brave survivors of gun violence, we will never stop until the job is done,” Pelosi wrote.
The House Democrats’ strategy to press ahead with anti-violence votes marks a break from that of party leaders in the Senate, where Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.) says he does not provide for a vote on gun reform before bipartisan negotiators have a chance. trying to reach an agreement on legislation that could become law. To do so would require 60 votes to escape a GOP filibuster — a tall hurdle in a chamber where Republicans are virtually united against any new restrictions on the sale or possession of guns.
“I know that’s a slim prospect. … We’ve been burned so many times before,” Schumer acknowledged on Wednesday. “But it’s so important.”
Fueling some hope among Democrats, public opinion polls have consistently revealed broad support for a number of gun reform proposals, including the expansion of background checks, which is hugely popular in all parties. Pelosi said she hopes the sentiment registers with GOP senators who are already lining up this week to block any new gun restrictions.
“As we walk down this path, we do so with the confidence that the American people support action against gun violence — overwhelmingly and on a bipartisan basis,” she wrote in her letter.