Congress

‘Come back ... immediately’: Democrats call for special session in aftermath of mass shootings

There has be no sign that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell intends to change the schedule.

From right, Connecticut Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy attend an event with lawmakers and victims to call on Congress to act on gun violence prevention in 2018. Corey Taylor, who was killed in a 2013 Texas shooting, appears in a photo at left. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democrats in the Senate have steadily called for a special session to address gun violence after a spate of deaths by assailants armed with assault weapons.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for an end to the Senate's August recess after mass shootings in Texas and Ohio claimed more than two dozen lives. 

“In February, the new Democratic House Majority promptly did its duty and passed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which is supported by more than 90 percent of the American people and proven to save lives,” the New York Democratic leader in the Senate and the California Democratic leader in the House said in a joint statement. 

“However, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has called himself the ‘grim reaper’ and refuses to act on this bipartisan legislation. It is incumbent upon the Senate to come back into session to pass this legislation immediately,” they said. 

Democrats in the House prioritized gun violence when Pelosi took the gavel in January. The House passed two pieces of legislation to tighten background checks for firearm sales that have stalled in the Republican-majority Senate. 

The Bipartisan Background Checks Act, or HR 8, would require every firearm sale to be subject to an FBI background check. The measure passed on a mostly party line vote, with five Republicans breaking ranks to vote in favor.

The Enhanced Background Checks Act, or HR 1112, would require gun sellers to wait up to 20 business days to hear from the FBI regarding an individual's background check. Current law requires a three-day waiting period. The bill passed with mostly Democratic support, with three Republicans voting for it.

Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Jon Tester of Montana have all called for a special session over the past two days. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders also called for a special session from the campaign trail, where he is vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. 

“To Congress’ leaders: now is the time for action, not time away, or time off,” Blumenthal said in a tweet.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham announced Monday that he plans to partner with Blumenthal on legislation advancing a federal grant program incentivizing states to adopt “red flag” protection order laws. These laws allow family members or law enforcement to submit petitions called “extreme risk protection orders” to remove firearms from the home of someone they believe poses a danger to themselves or others, according to the gun violence prevention group Everytown for Gun Safety.

“I spoke with the president this morning about this proposal and he seems very supportive,” the South Carolina senator said in a statement.

While stopping short of calling for a special session to take up gun violence prevention legislation, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, a Republican, said in an interview on CBS Face the Nation Sunday that he would “happily come back to Washington to have a conversation about gun violence ... tomorrow.”

But he also expressed opposition to “politicizing” the issue by calling for related legislation.  Instead, Scott placed the blame on social media.

“This is an issue of human hate. Something that resides in the heart and that is actually, unfortunately because of social technology and the social media, we're seeing it connect it to other folks who have hate in their heart as well,” Scott said.

There has be no indication that McConnell intends to change the schedule, which calls for pro forma sessions only with no legislative business until after Labor Day. McConnell fractured a shoulder after falling outside his home in Kentucky Sunday.

The authorities are investigating a white nationalist “manifesto” apparently linked to the El Paso shooting that likens Latinx immigrants living in Texas to an “invasion.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement Sunday that its El Paso investigation would be supported by a “Domestic Terrorism-Hate Crimes Fusion Cell,” which was established this year.

In testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee two weeks ago about “homegrown violent extremists,” Wray said that in 2019 “a majority of the domestic terrorism cases we've investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence.”

Last month, Republicans in Virginia quickly aborted a special session of the state legislature called by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam in the wake of mass shooting in Virginia Beach that killed twelve people. 

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