McConnell Vows Senate Will Wade Into Gun Debate in September

Dayton, Ohio, Mayor Nan Whaley speaks to members of the media on Tuesday following after a mass shooting that occurred early Sunday morning. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Legislation to expand federal background checks on guns will “lead the discussion” when the Senate returns in September from its month-long recess and debates a response to two mass shootings over the weekend in Ohio and Texas, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday.

Appearing on a Kentucky radio station on Thursday, McConnell said he talked with President Donald Trump earlier in the day about background check legislation in response to two mass shootings over the weekend that left 31 people dead in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

While the Kentucky Republican resisted calls to bring the Senate back early from its month-long August recess, he said staff-level discussions on gun control legislation will go forward while senators are out of town.

He particularly pointed to a deal Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., struck to work on legislation that would give grants to states that enact so-called red-flag laws.

Such laws allow law enforcement officers, family members or other close relations to have courts temporarily take away guns from people found to pose a risk to themselves or others.

Democrats have dismissed the Republican solution, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Wednesday calling the plan to focus solely on red-flag laws “an ineffective cop-out.”

McConnell said the red-flag bill, as well as background check legislation, will be “front and center” when the Senate returns from its break. He insisted talks over the legislation should be bipartisan and capable of earning Trump’s support.

“I want to make a law, not just see this political sparring going on endlessly which never produces a result,” McConnell said.

McConnell’s comments come after more than 200 mayors, including those of Dayton and El Paso, wrote to McConnell and Schumer demanding the Senate reconvene and take up two bills the House passed earlier this year to expand background checks on gun sales.

The House is also on an August recess of its own, having left Washington a week before the Senate.

Among the 229 mayors who signed onto the letter as of Thursday afternoon are Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, whose towns were the sites of the mass shootings last weekend.

“We urge you to call the Senate back to session now to take up and pass these bills to help reduce gun violence and the terrible toll it takes in our cities and our nation,” the letter states.

Democrats and activists have been ramping up pressure on McConnell to call the Senate back into session to pass two Democrat-backed bills that would tighten up the rules around federal background checks on gun sales.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sent her own letter to President Donald Trump on Thursday asking him to use his constitutional authority to call the Senate back to Washington to consider the background check legislation.

“This extraordinary moment in our history requires all of us to take extraordinary action to save lives,” Pelosi wrote.

One bill, the Bipartisan Background Check Act, would require background checks on every gun purchase, while the Enhanced Background Checks Act would change the procedures for what happens when a background check is delayed.

The bills passed the House in February, but have not come up for a vote in the Senate, where they have significantly less support.

Trump earlier this week called on Congress to work on new legislation on guns, floating on Twitter the idea of possibly tying a deal on background checks to immigration reform. The Associated Press on Thursday reported Trump has been calling Republicans in the Senate during his public push for the background check changes.

But McConnell has given no indication that he will call the Senate back to Washington and Republicans have eyed changes other than reforms to the background check system since the shootings. Among the ideas are so-called red-flag laws, which allow family members and law enforcement to ask a court to temporarily take guns away from someone they show is a threat to themselves or others.

Trump has endorsed the legislation and Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, earlier this week said he struck an agreement with Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., on a bill that would give grants to states that enact red-flag laws.

But Democrats have dismissed the Republican solution, with Schumer on Wednesday calling the plan to focus solely on red-flag laws “an ineffective cop out.”

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