"Moderate" House Dems ask for changes to gun control package

"Moderate" House Dems ask for changes to gun control package
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Not any substantive changes to the anti-gun legislation, mind you, but nonetheless the request by 21 House Democrats is interesting, if for no other reason than it shows that Democrats aren’t all on the same page about how to proceed politically in their attempt to make gun control a front-burner issue in the midterms.

The Hill reports that a group of 21 House Democrats, headed by Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger, wants the package of eight gun control measures approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday broken up into separate votes, ostensibly to try to bring more Republicans on board with some of the individual anti-gun measures. Of course, doing so would also allow some of those “moderate” Democrats to also reject measures that their swing districts would find unpopular, ineffective, unconstitutional, or all of the above.

The Democrats’ package includes measures to raise the purchasing age for semi-automatic rifles to 21 years old, outlaw magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, strengthen storage requirements, codify a ban on bump stocks, prohibit straw purchases of firearms and combat untraceable “ghost guns.”

“We fully expect each of these bills will pass in the House, but as we focus on actually delivering for a hurting America, passing each bill individually will ensure that every commonsense measure we are putting forth arrives in the U.S. Senate with the maximum bipartisan support it may garner, recorded through individual votes – giving us the maximum chance of passing gun violence prevention legislation in the Senate and into law,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter, first reported by Punchbowl News, arrived in the middle of a much-watched gathering of Nadler’s Judiciary Committee, which had returned to Washington for a special markup on the same eight-bill omnibus package the 21 Democrats want to split apart.

It also coincided with another letter sent Thursday from Pelosi to House Democrats laying out the party’s voting strategy on gun reform following last week’s massacre in Uvalde. In it, Pelosi informs her members that the package of bills being marked up by the Judiciary panel will receive a vote next week.

In addition to the bills approved by the House Judiciary Committee, Pelosi has also scheduled a vote next week on a federal “red flag” firearms seizure law, but in an interesting twist The Hill also reported that Pelosi has edged away from her previous statements about holding a vote on a ban on semi-automatic rifles.

The Speaker also indicated that House Democrats “will soon hold a hearing” on legislation to ban hundreds of models of “assault” rifles, like the one used in Uvalde. That’s a less aggressive position than Pelosi had outlined just a day before in San Francisco, where she vowed that Democrats would hold not only a hearing, but also vote to mark up the assault weapons proposal, sending it to the floor.

I wonder how many of those 21 Democrats would prefer not to cast a vote before November endorsing the banning and compensated confiscation of the most commonly-sold rifle in the country? These aren’t AOC-style Democrats we’re talking about, for the most part, though none of the signatories are known for their staunch support for the Second Amendment either, and it stands to reason that while they’re eager to vote for any gun control legislation they believe will be popular with their constituents, they’re not exactly excited about the prospect of running for re-election as the gun ban candidate in a red wave environment.

But if Pelosi sticks with a hearing on a ban instead of holding a vote, that’s also a pretty clear indication that the votes aren’t there in the Democratic-controlled House, which undercuts a couple of the Dems’ chief talking points: Republican obstructionism is the only thing standing between the American people and a safe society, and a ban on so-called assault weapons is wildly popular with both the electorate and any politician with a conscience.

Personally, I think she should hold that vote, but Pelosi may decide that passing nearly a dozen gun control bills that will go nowhere in the Senate is performative enough, and there’s no reason to put vulnerable members of her caucus on the record in support of a sweeping gun ban. Either way, there’s going to be no shortage of anti-gun bills that do get a vote next week, and Democrats like Spanberger, who represents a swing district in Virginia, are likely to find that even those measures they tout as “commonsense” aren’t nearly as popular with voters as the gun control lobby claim they are.