A task force of House Democrats released a set of 15 policy principles Thursday that it hopes to shape into legislation to help reduce gun violence, less than a month after President Barack Obama issued a virtually identical set of recommendations.
The chairman of the roughly 70-member task force, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., announced the principles at a news conference alongside House Democratic leaders at a party retreat in Leesburg, Va. President Barack Obama addressed the House Democrats earlier Thursday and called on them to keep up the fight for tougher gun restrictions after the Dec. 14 elementary school shooting in Connecticut.
Thompson, a Vietnam veteran and hunter, emphasized the task force’s respect for the Second Amendment and said none of its ideas are intended to infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens. The task force even listed as its first two policy principles support for the Second Amendment and support for Americans’ right to possess firearms for “legitimate purposes.”
At the same time, Thompson and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said they saw a need to act aggressively after the Connecticut massacre to ensure that such tragedies can be prevented in the future.
“I think we should move as boldly as possible and see where we come out, rather than throwing in the towel,” Pelosi said.
But in a notable sign of the divisiveness of gun proposals — even among Democrats — one of the task force’s vice chairs, Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., released a statement expressing “serious and honest concerns” about some of the principles.
“I believe we must . . . not propose any misguided or sweeping gun ban that does far too little to address the real causes of gun violence, and far too much in limiting the rights of sportsmen and responsible gun owners,” Dingell said in a statement that, while not specific, appeared to criticize a proposed renewal of the assault weapons ban. “We cannot afford to double down on any of the past policies we’ve implemented that have proven to do nothing to prevent such unspeakable acts like Tucson, Aurora or Virginia Tech from occurring.”
Although the task force originally had 12 vice chairs, freshman Rep. Bill Enyart of Illinois dropped off. His chief of staff said he wanted to listen to his constituents in southern Illinois.
Similarities to White House Plan
While the House task force’s principles have been under development for about six weeks and came after a series of meetings with stakeholders on all sides of the gun issue, its recommendations largely mirror those announced by Obama on Jan. 16. They include universal background checks on gun purchases, a ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines and a reinstatement of the lapsed assault weapons ban.
Like the White House, the House task force is calling for a new federal gun trafficking law, more funding for law enforcement, and improvements in school safety and mental health programs. Both proposals urge more research into gun violence and violent video games.
“The two proposals are very, very close in content and in intent and, I think, in effect,” Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said.
In fact, the National Rifle Association issued a statement contending that the House task force’s proposals “represent the Obama administration’s gun control wish list.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.