All eyes will turn to the Senate in September when lawmakers return to the Capitol with a host of issues to tackle, chief among them gun safety legislation already approved by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.
In the wake of two August mass shootings that killed 31 people in two states, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told a Louisville, Kentucky, radio station that discussions on background checks would be “front and center,” in addition to so-called red flag laws.
Will the Republican-led Senate take up House Resolution 8, requiring background checks on all gun sales, or will it craft a gun safety bill of its own? As in the aftermath of other mass shootings — think, Sandy Hook Elementary and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — it also is possible no federal action will be taken.
“I think there’s a close working relationship between the leadership of the Senate and the White House on this, considering that that’s where the negotiations are going on right now, not just between Republicans and Democrats, but also between the Senate and the White House,” said Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, on Friday’s edition of Iowa Press. “I think there’s a feeling that if you’re going to do anything in the 2nd Amendment area, that you want to make sure the president’s going to sign it.”
On Sunday, before leaving his New Jersey golf club, President Donald Trump was asked whether he supported “universal background checks.”
According to Politico, Trump said: “I’m not saying anything. I’m saying Congress is going to be reporting back to me with ideas. And they’ll come in from Democrats and Republicans. And I’ll look at it very strongly. But just remember, we already have a lot of background checks.”
Earlier in the press gaggle, he said: “They have bipartisan committees working on background checks and various other things. And we’ll see. I don’t want people to forget that this is a mental health problem. I don’t want them to forget that, because it is. It’s a mental health problem.”
Grassley, the second-highest ranking member of the Senate, did not indicate whether he supported the House legislation — approved 240-190 in February — or what, if any, gun control measures he deemed acceptable.
Instead, he pivoted to mental illness, a preferred talking point of Republicans when asked about how to prevent future mass shootings.
Mentally ill Americans should be prevented from owning a gun, Grassley said, “so that people that have mental health issues can’t get a gun and do what a lot of people that are deranged do, because there’s been a mental health issue with all of these” [mass shootings].
The 24-year-old man accused of killing nine people in Dayton allegedly had a history of mental illness, according to those who knew him. But in the case of the suspected El Paso shooter, his intentions appeared fueled by racial hatred toward Hispanics, as detailed in his manifesto posted online shortly before he opened fire at a Walmart. In both instances, easy access to powerful firearms created a deadly result.
At a town hall meeting Saturday morning in Johnston, Iowa’s junior senator Joni Ernst was peppered with questions from concerned constituents about the prevalence of mass shootings in America and the ease with which high-powered weapons are acquired.
When asked whether she supported background checks for all gun sales, Ernst said there already were laws on the books restricting who could purchase guns.
“When you go to a gun show, the proper procedure is that you’ve already gone through a background check, so when you go into that gun show, you have a card that will say that you’ve already been through that background check. Again, most of these ideas are already in law, they just need to be enforced.
“Yes, we will take a look at the proposals that are being compiled right now,” Ernst continued. “As I said, those [Senate] chairmen will pull together proposals that are coming forward. But what we do have to make sure is that those that are law-abiding citizens are still able to purchase weapons. It’s our 2nd Amendment right.”
Ernst said McConnell had instructed chairs of the Commerce [Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker], Judiciary [South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham] and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions [Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander] committees to “pull together and start talking about how we can solve the [gun safety] issue.”
“The issue is that good, law-abiding citizens are going to follow the laws, and bad people with evil intent will not,” Ernst said.
When asked specifically about H.R. 8, the universal background check bill, Ernst said she “will certainly take a look at that, because if there are people that are circumventing what is already in law, then we need to figure out how to close those loopholes.”
By Elizabeth Meyer
Ernst photo by Julie Fleming