U.S. Democrats, looking to heighten their profile on the hot-button issue of gun control, moved forward on Tuesday with new measures aimed at curbing gun violence, while President Donald Trump also planned to huddle with Republican leaders.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives Judiciary Committee began considering three pieces of gun legislation for the full House to review, more than a month after gun safety surged back to the forefront of U.S. public debate in the wake of back-to-back mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.
The bills are part of a coordinated strategy between House and Senate Democrats to put pressure on Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to allow a vote on gun-related bills including universal background check legislation that passed the House in February.
"We are not taking these additional actions simply to respond to mass shootings," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler told the proceedings.
"We are acting because of the urgent need to respond to the daily toll of gun violence in our communities, whether they are mass shootings or not, and whether or not they make national headlines," he said.
Republicans pledged to support "sensible" legislation on guns but denounced the Democratic legislation as flawed and a risk to gun owner rights under the Second Amendment.
"What I am not willing to do is support legislation that will do nothing to make us safer and simultaneously infringes on the rights and liberties guaranteed by our Constitution. Unfortunately, all three bills we are considering today do just that," said the committee's top Republican, Representative Doug Collins.
The panel began the debate with so-called red flag legislation that would allow courts and law enforcement officials to remove guns from people deemed a risk to communities. Other measures would ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and extend an existing prohibition against gun possession for those convicted of hate crimes from the felony to the misdemeanor level.
Trump and Republican leaders from the House and Senate met at the White House and were expected to discuss gun legislation among other matters.
McConnell reiterated on Tuesday that he would wait for the White House to propose gun legislation that Trump would sign. On Monday, Trump stressed the need to protect gun owner rights.
With a majority of voters favoring background check legislation, Democrats are hoping to underscore the sharp differences between them and Republicans at a time when, according to a new Gallup poll, nearly half of Americans worry that they or a family member could become victims of a mass shooting.
"This is a representative democracy and the people want it, and we have to perform our offices on the assumption - whether it is true or not - that everyone else in our political system will do their jobs," said Representative Jamie Raskin, a House Judiciary Democrat.
Staff-level discussions between Congress and the White House during the August break focused on "red flag" legislation and proposals to close loops in current background checks that exempt internet sales and private gun sales, including those that take place at gun shows.
House Democrats, who are also nearing a majority of support for an assault weapons ban, expect the bills to clear the committee and the full House.
Some were stubbornly optimistic that the Republican-controlled Senate might eventually take them up.
"I choose to be positive that we're going to listen to the American people at some point and do something," Representative Debbie Dingell said.© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2019.