Democrats keep up push for gun control bills

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Democrats took new steps Tuesday to try to keep political momentum on gun control, as they fear short summer attention spans might sap their strength before Congress returns in September.

House Democrats renewed their demand that Republicans immediately reconvene the Senate and pass a background check bill that cleared the House six months ago.

Meanwhile, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, 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 that cash 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 earlier this month in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, renewed the long-running debate over firearms — with the suspect in the El Paso massacre adding an element of white nationalism to the conversation, after police linked that shooting to a racist manifesto complaining about Hispanics overrunning the U.S.

The shootings came just days after senators left Washington for a five-week vacation; the House had already been gone for a week.

Democrats have demanded immediate action, saying Congress could reconvene to pass bills. But Democrats say they did already pass a background check bill in the House on a near-party line vote, so the main burden is on the GOP-led Senate to take action.

And that, they said, 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. Don Beyer, 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 a licensed dealer, 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 is unlikely to reconvene his chamber, suggesting that it would only lead to more partisan bickering. Instead, he’s tasked three of his committee chairs to work on finding bipartisan solutions that could potentially be passed in September when both chambers return to D.C.

Mr. Trump said Tuesday 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 also said he’s not sure what kind of partner he’ll 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 the gun issue.

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

Minority Whip Steve Scalise said Sunday that 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 a firearm.

Democrats said their background checks bill is only the beginning and are also looking to work on an assault weapons ban, raising the purchasing age to 21, and pursue a “red flag” law to allow the government to confiscate guns in situations where someone is reported by friends, family or authorities to be a temporary danger.

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 on his own to rejigger the government’s priorities.

A source familiar with Mr. Schumer’s plans said he’ll suggest the $5 billion Mr. Trump requested in his fiscal year 2020 budget should be canceled and instead used to expand Homeland Security’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’ll 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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