For the first time since the Dec. 14 mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte said Friday that his chamber will take legislative action to curb gun violence.
“The Congress is going to act on this issue,” Goodlatte, R-Va., said in a telephone interview with CQ Roll Call. “The Senate is at work on it, and we are as well. Our goal is to do anything we can do keep firearms out of the hands of people who should not have them.”
At the same time, Goodlatte and every other Republican member of his committee sent letters Friday to President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., calling on the administration to provide 11 years’ worth of data on federal enforcement of existing gun laws. The letters warned that it is “imprudent” for Obama to call for new gun proposals without also assessing the enforcement of laws that are already on the books.
“Part of the decisionmaking process as to whether additional laws are necessary to combat future violence is whether the existing federal firearms laws are being enforced,” the letters said. “It is imprudent to simply call for more laws without examining the efficacy of the current laws.”
Goodlatte, in one of his first interviews about gun violence since taking over the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee in January, said the administration’s recent enforcement of gun laws has been “pathetic.” He noted that the Justice Department rarely prosecutes those who attempt to buy firearms illegally by lying on federal forms that ask prospective buyers to assert that they are not among a group of prohibited purchasers. He pointed to statistics, cited in the Judiciary Republicans’ letter to Obama, that the Justice Department prosecuted just 62 of more than 76,000 such cases in 2010.
But Goodlatte also said that the committee’s emphasis on stronger enforcement of current gun laws should not be interpreted to mean that it is not willing to take up new legislation. Until Friday, House Republican leaders had said only that their chamber is willing to look at whatever gun-related legislation is passed by the Democratic-led Senate.
Goodlatte himself, who has an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, told CQ Roll Call four days after the Connecticut shooting that “gun control is not going to be something that I would support.” He struck a more conciliatory tone on Friday.
“I wouldn’t draw any conclusions about what we’ll do with gun laws,” Goodlatte said. “Our point is that as we look at legislation to prevent tragedies like Newtown and other crimes that occur with these guns, we should first be looking at what’s being done to enforce the laws that we have.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.