There’s no surprise that House Democrats are big fans of gun control. There might be a few that aren’t that hot on the topic, but they’re a distinct minority in a party that has pushed an anti-gun sentiment for years now.
But, they’re in the minority. They don’t control the levers of power in the House of Representatives anymore, which means it’s much harder to push the issue.
That doesn’t mean they won’t try, though, and while they know it won’t go anywhere with Senate Republicans still able to filibuster, they have other reasons to want to force a vote.
Democratic leaders are seeking to advance a number of gun control bills in the House, hoping to force vulnerable Republicans to take a side on the matter ahead of a crucial election cycle in 2024.
House Democrats filed three separate discharge petitions on Tuesday to advance legislation seeking tighter gun restrictions and a ban on assault-style weapons, using a rare mechanism that could trigger a floor vote even without the support of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Party leaders are seeking to use that vote to put Republicans in an uncomfortable position, hoping to paint their GOP counterparts as unserious on the matter of guns.
“It should shock the conscience that gun violence is the leading cause of death with children in this country,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said on Tuesday. “America, the greatest country in the history of the world, should not be in a situation where young people are afraid to go to school. Where people have to live in fear. In terms of going to the synagogue or a mosque or the church or to a mall or to a concert — we are better than that as a country.”
Under House rules, lawmakers can use a discharge petition to move it to the floor for consideration without committee approval if the legislation has been introduced and referred to a standing committee for at least 30 days. To do so, lawmakers must get a majority of the House — in this case, 218 members — to sign a petition to consider the bill on the floor.
That means if all Democrats sign on to the discharge petitions, the party would only need support from five Republicans to bring the legislation to the floor.
The question is whether any Republican will cross the lines to sign the petition.
Of course, there’s also a question as to how many Democrats will join. After all, while the mechanism exists, using it is a double-edged sword. If they do this now, Republicans can always do it later on things Democratic leadership isn’t fond of.
There’s a reason this mechanism exists, but it’s not to shine a spotlight on vulnerable members of the House. It’s to make sure the leadership of the chamber doesn’t exert too much authority over popular legislation that they, personally, don’t like.
But Democrats are looking at this as a way to make Republicans who may live in districts where gun control is favored to be put in a position of either backing gun control and possibly losing in a primary or voting against it and opening up a lane of attack for a Democratic challenger.
From a strategic point of view, it sure seems smart.
The problem is that if they can’t get their own party to sign on, it could signal that the Democrats aren’t nearly as in lockstep on guns as they like to claim. Further, don’t be surprised if this puts vulnerable Democrats in the very position they hope to put some GOP members in.
After all, there are Democrats holding office in places that like guns. Making them sign onto something like this might well come back to bite them in the posterior in 2024.
So, this is an interesting development, but I’m not sure it’ll work the way they want it to.