Hoyer cautions Senate against ‘cop-out’ approach on gun safety legislation

Red flag law bill, more narrow background check expansion not enough, House majority leader says

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer is calling on the Senate to act on a House-passed bill requiring background checks all gun sales. Above, Hoyer speaks at a news conference in the Capitol on Tuesday, joined by, from left, Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell, Christian Heyne of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and Virginia Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is cautioning the Senate against taking up narrowly focused gun safety legislation instead of a more comprehensive House-passed bill to expand background checks on gun purchases. 

In the weeks following three recent deadly mass shootings, House Democrats have issued a steady drumbeat of calls for the Senate to return early from its summer recess to consider HR 8, which the House passed in February. The bill would expand background checks conducted for in-store firearm purchases to include online and gun show sales. 

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to call his chamber back early but has said that Republican senators will discuss legislative possibilities with their Democratic colleagues and President Donald Trump.

The Kentucky Republican has expressed a willingness to discuss background checks, though he has stopped short of endorsing the House bill, which had the support of only eight Republicans in that chamber. McConnell and other Republican senators have spent more time discussing legislation to provide grants for states to adopt so-called red flag laws that would allow the courts to temporarily seize firearms from individuals determined to be a threat to themselves or others. 

“The Senate focus on the red flag law as be-all, end-all is absolutely wrong and a cop-out, a way to avoid doing their responsibility,” Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday.

The Maryland Democrat’s comments came after he and a handful of his colleagues held a press conference with individuals who’ve lost loved ones to gun violence in an effort to put pressure on the Senate to act on HR 8.

In a brief conversation with reporters after the event, Hoyer suggested House Democrats would not accept a more narrow background check bill, as some Senate Republicans have floated. 

“If they only eliminate some loopholes, we would not believe that that was common sense,” he said.

The majority leader also announced Tuesday that the House Judiciary Committee would return early from recess to mark up additional gun safety legislation. He said afterward he did not know what date the committee would return or what bills it would consider.

A House Judiciary spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hoyer noted that the Judiciary panel has plenty of options to consider, as House members have introduced more than 100 gun safety bills. Some possibilities he mentioned include bills that would ban or limit access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and measures that would promote safety in schools. 

When the House and Senate return Sept. 9, they will need to focus much of their attention on appropriations with only three legislative weeks before Sept. 30, the fiscal year deadline to avoid a government shutdown.

Hoyer suggested that the gun safety debate could spill into appropriations negotiations. 

“We will take every opportunity we can to ensure at least this step and more are taken,” he said, referring to HR 8.

Asked if that would violate the bipartisan agreement reached last month to not insert poison pill riders in the appropriations bills, Hoyer demurred.

“We don’t necessarily have to take that on an appropriations bill,” he said, noting there are other ways to tackle the issue. 

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