WASHINGTON – The deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas renewed Democrats’ calls Monday for gun safety legislation, but their pleas fell on deaf ears in the Republican-controlled Congress. At the same time GOP legislation aimed at loosening gun rules stood in limbo, facing an uncertain future.
Before the shooting that killed at least 58 people — the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history — House GOP leaders had been moving forward with bills to ease regulations on gun silencers and allow people with concealed-carry permits to take their weapons to other states.
Republicans have been upbeat about prospects for legislation as they control both the House and Senate and have an ally in the White House in President Donald Trump. But no votes on either bill were scheduled as of Monday.
Democrats seized on the violence in Nevada to demand tougher gun restrictions.
“What Congress can do — what Congress must do — is pass laws that keep our citizens safe,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said on the Senate floor. “And that starts with laws that help prevent guns, especially the most dangerous guns, from falling into the wrong hands.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, Democrat from Connecticut, a gun control proponent, said it was “time for Congress to get off its ass and do something.” In an outdoor news conference, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, grievously wounded in a 2011 attack, turned to the Capitol, raised her fist and said, “The nation is counting on you.”
But no action was expected, as other mass shootings in Colorado, Connecticut, and Florida, and even attacks on lawmakers, failed to unite Congress on any legislative response. A bipartisan bill on background checks failed in the Senate four years ago, and since then Republicans have usually pointed to mental health legislation when questioned about the appropriate congressional response to gun violence.
Instead, Republicans have been pushing a pair of NRA-backed bills to loosen firearms restrictions. A Republican-led House committee last month backed the silencer bill by Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, who said it would help hunters protect their hearing.
Democrats scoffed, noting that the bill also would allow more armor-piercing ammunition. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi invoked the June shooting of Majority Whip Steve Scalise to oppose the bill last week, saying, “If you can hear (a gunshot) you can run” away.
The crowd fled at the sound of gunshots.
Imagine the deaths if the shooter had a silencer, which the NRA wants to make easier to get.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) October 2, 2017
Pelosi on Monday asked House Speaker Paul Ryan to create a select committee on gun violence to recommend legislation. A group of Democratic lawmakers asked Ryan to remove the bill from the House calendar indefinitely.
Ryan ordered the flags of the Capitol to fly at half-staff, and issued a statement saying, “the whole country stands united in our shock, in our condolences and in our prayers.” But the speaker has shown no interest in legislation to tighten up gun laws.
In an interview with a news agency last month, he said Congress needs to fund mental health reforms. “But if you’re saying that this Republican Congress is going to infringe upon Second Amendment rights, we’re not going to do that,” he said.
Duncan, who grew up hunting with his father, included the silencer measure in a larger bill to expand hunting and fishing on federal lands. He suffers from hearing loss in one ear as a result of firing guns without earmuffs or suppressors, the term advocates prefer to “silencers.” The devices muffle the noise of gunshots rather than mute it.
Donald Trump Jr., an avid hunter, supports the bill and says it’s about safety. “It’s a health issue, frankly,” Trump said in an interview last year with SilencerCo, a Utah silencer manufacturer.
A separate bill sponsored by Rep. Richard Hudson, Republican from North Carolina, would allow any gun owner with a state-issued concealed carry permit to conceal a handgun in any state that allows concealed carry. Hudson said the bill would allow gun owners to “travel freely between states without worrying about conflicting state codes or onerous civil suits.”
Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, returned to the Capitol last week after he was shot and critically wounded in June as he and fellow Republicans practiced for a congressional baseball game.