In the week after the mass shooting in Roseburg, Ore., Senate Democrats gathered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to demand stricter gun control and unveil their comprehensive policy package to achieve it.
Frustrated by the inaction of Republicans and hamstrung by a lack of votes, the group of more than two dozen Senate Democrats sought to spark debate by appealing directly to the public.
“The roll call of American gun tragedies is already far too long,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. “The victims and their families deserve better than a Congress that shrugs its shoulder and waits for the next tragedy.”
Rallying around three “principles of action,” the group proposed laws to close background check loopholes, expand background databases, and crack down on illegal gun sales.
Numerically virtually impossible to pass in the Republican-controlled House, gun control legislation also faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters that Democrats will move when the American people speak. “Once that groundswell is heard,” he said, “we will draft legislation in line with these principles.”
On Thursday, Schumer noted that Senate Democrats plan to employ “all the procedural means that we can” to get a vote. And according to The New York Times, Democrats are preparing to block all other Senate motions to force their legislation onto the floor.
In 2013, the last time the Senate considered gun control legislation, Democrats controlled the chamber. The Manchin-Toomey bill would have required background checks on almost all gun sales. The legislation won 54 votes, falling just six votes shy of the filibuster-proof threshold.
Now, 14 Republican lawmakers would need to join a completely unified Democrat caucus to overcome the current threat of filibuster.
But already one Senate Democrat tells The Daily Signal she plans to oppose key elements of the legislation. “I have made clear where I stand on background checks legislation, and that hasn’t changed,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said in a statement.
“As a result, I can’t support this proposal.”
Even without party unity, Democrats could still tie their proposals to upcoming legislation perceived by some as must-pass, like the highway funding bill. With just 41 votes, the party could force the issue.
From the other side of the aisle Thursday, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, warned Democrats that increased gun control was a non-starter.
“Some of our Democratic colleagues have said that they’re going to introduce some gun control legislation,” he said in a Senate floor speech. “We all know [that] has been tried before and cannot pass this chamber.”
The Republican majority whip has introduced legislation to combat mental health issues connected with gun violence by building legal tools for court-ordered psychiatric supervision.
Cornyn maintains that this bill provides the best avenue toward bipartisan consensus and addresses “the root cause of some of these horrific events.”
If Democrats fail to pass gun control in the Senate, they may succeed in the White House.
According to NBC News, the Obama administration may go it alone, acting on this issue by executive order. The proposal would redefine a gun dealer as anyone selling more than a specific number of firearms.
NBC reports that the president hasn’t decided on a number yet, but anyone above the limit would qualify as “in the business” and incur responsibility for mandatory background checks.
Chris Cox, the executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute of Legislative Action, accused President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats of attempting to politicize catastrophe.
“If Obama and gun control advocates were serious, they would address the underlying issue of America’s broken mental health system,” Cox said in a statement. “Instead, they push gun control initiatives that would not have prevented any of the tragedies they seek to exploit.”