House Committee Takes Up Trio of Gun-Control Bills

The U.S. Capitol at sunset in Washington. (AP photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Gun safety legislation has languished in Congress since February while mass shootings go unabated across the nation. On Tuesday, lawmakers wrestled yet again over a trio of gun safety bills which, like many that have come before, will likely stall in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The House Judiciary Committee debated several gun safety bills Tuesday, following a series of mass shootings that rippled through the United States this summer.

The last mass shooting to grab national headlines occurred in late August in Odessa, Texas, during the congressional recess. But according to the Gun Violence Archive, the last recorded mass shooting – which some define as four or more people being shot – unfolded in Elkmont, Alabama, on Sept. 2.

The steady drumbeat of shootings had Democrats on the committee arguing passionately Tuesday in favor of legislation like HR 1236, the Extreme Risk Protection Act. Commonly referred to as a “red flag” bill, it would clear state, tribal, and local authorities to take firearms from individuals shown to be a danger to themselves or others.

H.R. 1236 establishes parameters for law enforcement officials and courts, guiding them to remove firearms from people who are deemed a specific threat. Individuals who are flagged would have a right to counsel to dispute the order and several factors must be present for a person to be eligible for firearm removal. Recent acts of cruelty to animals, acts of violence toward oneself or others and evidence of ongoing substance abuse are just a few of the criteria.

Another bill, H.R. 2708, the Disarm Hate Act, would bar those convicted of a misdemeanor from obtaining a firearm. Lawmakers also weighed H.R. 1186, the Keep Americans Safe Act, which would regulate large-capacity ammunition feeding devices like magazines or belts – ultimately making it illegal to own, import or sell them.

Georgia Democrat Lucy McBath choked back tears Tuesday as she lamented the “constant heartbreak” mass shootings cause across hundreds of American cities. Other Democrats like Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas channeled frustration by blasting the federal government for its ineptitude and seeming abdication of responsibility.

“The federal government has been derelict in not passing the federal construct to save lives,” Lee said. “The pain we are experiencing, the devastation of gun violence from El Paso to Odessa – I can assure you, red-flag laws, mental health, all of it has been rejected before.

“And so while we pitter-patter around, someone can get this in their hands,” Lee said, clutching a large poster of an AR- 15 assault rifle.

Republicans on the committee, like ranking member Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, expressed frustration with the crisis too, but they remained adamant: the proposed red-flag bills as they stand will never pass muster in the Senate.

“The bill before us has serious due process problems. Ex parte determination can be made when there’s a reasonable belief that someone poses a danger to others. That’s not probable cause. It’s less than convincing evidence. Do we want to lower citizens’ rights to such low standards? What other things are we willing to sacrifice?” Collins said of the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act.  “We are supposed to protect due process, not eviscerate it.”

But House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler was equally adamant that the bills proposed are sufficiently constitutional. Meanwhile, proposed Republican amendments, like one to ban firearm possession only for those in criminal databases were quickly rebuffed by Democrats as inadequate.

“We know that those lists are often put together with no due process consideration. They are also often inaccurate and not especially up to date. It isn’t true of every department’s list but many. There’s no indication of reliability,” Nadler said.

Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., expressed frustration with the lack of provisions addressing mental health or related services. But the same critique of due process gone awry irked Lesko too.

Before Tuesday’s mark-up during a Senate leadership press conference, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to get serious about gun safety legislation.

“We are ready to have that debate right now. Enough is enough; too many Americans are being killed. H.R. 8, [ a universal background check bill]  passed 195 days ago and it has been in his graveyard ever since,” Schumer said, referring to McConnell.

The bills debated Tuesday – despite Republican derision – have been largely championed by the Democratic majority in the House and passage could be swift. A vote is expected later this month.

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