Politics & Government

McConnell suggests Senate could look at assault weapons ban, background checks

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, under severe pressure from Democrats and a growing number of Republicans, suggested Thursday that the Senate could look at a ban on assault weapons and that there’s Senate support for a move to expand background checks to nearly all gun sales.

Speaking on WHAS 840 in Louisville, the Kentucky Republican said President Donald Trump called him Thursday morning and is “anxious to get an outcome and so am I.”

He said the two talked about various proposals that will be “front and center” in Senate discussions, including so-called red flag warning legislation that would keep guns from people deemed a threat by their friends and family members, as well as expanding background checks.

“There’s a lot of support for that,” McConnell said, referring to legislation championed by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, who are hoping to revive legislation that would extend background checks for nearly all gun sales. A similar effort died in the Senate in 2013.

“The urgency of this is not lost on any of us,” McConnell said.

But he noted the bar for legislation includes passing the House, garnering 60 votes in the Senate and a presidential signature.

He did not rule out looking at a ban on assault weapons, but noted there is a dispute over whether the 1994 ban that expired in 2004 had showed results.

“It’s certainly one of the front and center issues,” he said. “But what we can’t do is fail to pass something. What I want to see here is an outcome, not a bunch of partisan back and forths, shots across the bow.”

McConnell has been pilloried by Democrats and gun control advocacy groups for refusing to schedule a Senate vote for a House measure to expand background checks. Congress is in recess until September 9.

McConnell said Thursday “the key to this is making a law, not a point.” He said he hoped to have discussions between members of the two political parties in the next few weeks before the Senate returns to Washington.

The House in February passed two gun control measures, including one to expand background checks by requiring them for nearly all private sales, including gun shows and online transactions.

McConnell dismissed the idea of calling the Senate back immediately to pass the House legislation, saying “we’d just have people scoring political points and nothing would happen. There has to be a bipartisan discussion here of what we can agree on.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday wrote to Trump asking him to call the Senate back into session immediately to bring up the House-passed gun legislation.

The legislation’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-California, who chairs the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, and 213 House Democrats, including Kentucky’s sole Democrat, Rep. John Yarmuth, have sought to pressure McConnell, urging him in a letter to call the Senate back from recess and pass the House legislation.

Yarmuth, chairman of the House Budget Committee, and Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, were to join gun control advocates Thursday night at a Louisville rally to press McConnell to pass gun reform legislation.

More than 200 mayors from across the country, including Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and the mayors of Dayton and El Paso, the site of mass shootings this weekend, signed a letter Thursday to McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, urging action on gun legislation.

“Our nation can no longer wait for our federal government to take the actions necessary to prevent people who should not have access to firearms from being able to purchase them,” they wrote.

McConnell has repeatedly said that he won’t put a bill up for a vote in the Senate without significant Republican support and an indication from the White House that Trump would sign the legislation. The White House earlier this year threatened to veto the House background check bill and Trump, who this week said he would be open to expanded background checks, has embraced gun control in the past only to reverse himself.

McConnell, who is recuperating from a shoulder fracture sustained in a fall at his home, has been widely criticized in Louisville, where activists have been demonstrating in front of his house. The Twitter account for his reelection campaign was locked mid-week after it posted video of protesters outside his home. He noted in the radio interview that Twitter had carried the hashtag #MassacreMitch —which was trending on Twitter as critics blamed McConnell for blocking gun legislation — but went after his campaign “for posting actual threats made against me.”

He’s also been the target of late night comedians, who excoriated McConnell for blocking the House bills.

McConnell in a statement issued Monday didn’t mention guns or background checks, but said he’d spoken with the Republican chairmen of three Senate committees and asked them to “engage in bipartisan discussions of potential solutions to help protect our communities without infringing on Americans’ constitutional rights.”

There is some support for so-called red flag bills, which would allow friends and family members to petition authorities to keep guns away from people deemed a threat to themselves or others. But some conservatives, including McConnell’s Kentucky colleague, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky, deride them as unconstitutional. Schumer said that Democrats would not “settle for half-measures so Republicans can feel better and try to push the issue of gun violence off to the side.”

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