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Democrats to try forcing vote on bill establishing select panel on gun violence

The House of Representatives side of the U.S. Capitol.

STARS AND STRIPES

By ED O'KEEFE | The Washington Post | Published: November 7, 2017

Two days after a mass shooting at a Texas church, Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday plan to try forcing an up-or-down vote on legislation establishing a select committee on preventing gun violence.

Attempts to establish a special bipartisan panel are destined to fail, given that Republicans control both chambers of Congress and have shown no willingness to debate the issue.

The proposal is set to be introduced Tuesday afternoon by House Democrats, who have compiled more than 30 pieces of legislation this year to combat gun violence and bolster federal funding to research and assist people with mental illness and the affects of gun violence.

Of the more than 30 bills introduced by Democrats, just four have Republican co-sponsors, according to a document compiled by Democratic aides and shared with The Washington Post.

The measure is by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., who leads a Democratic working group on gun violence established after the 2012 mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school. The bill would establish a 12-member committee divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats to study the causes of mass shootings, ways to revamp the gun background check system, research how mentally ill people obtain firearms and explore ways to keep domestic abusers from buying firearms.

"You know how many special committees they've created to chase Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama around that don't have any bearing on saving lives of the people we represent?" Thompson said in an interview on Monday, referring to Republicans. "A select committee can determine how we can take steps to enhance gun violence prevention, but they won't even do that."

Thompson's bill is co-sponsored by 158 other Democrats and no Republicans.

During scheduled votes on other bills, Democrats will use procedural motions to try to introduce the bill on the floor and get a vote, according to senior aides.

Failure to earn a vote would compel Democrats to renew attacks on Republicans for blocking such legislation - amid polling that shows a majority of Americans want Congress to take some action on gun violence. While most Americans do not support restricting gun ownership for law-abiding citizens, polls show most support expanding the national background check system and banning firearms sales to stalkers or violent criminals.

The push to pass new legislation follows bolder steps taken by Democrats last year. Shortly before the July Fourth recess, a band of Democratic lawmakers camped out on the House floor demanding up-or-down votes on gun control legislation, an ultimately futile move that earned a strong rebuke from House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Thompson said on Monday that he doesn't expect colleagues to take similar steps in the wake of the most recent shootings. But he dismissed as "intellectually dishonest" claims by President Donald Trump and GOP lawmakers that the best response to the shooting would be to focus on issues surrounding mental health.

"This is the same president that is trying to get rid of the mental health funding," Thompson said.

Trump's proposed budget would slash funding for mental health treatment and research programs funded through the departments of Education and Health and Human Services, among others.

If Republicans are serious about addressing mental health issues, Thompson said they should restore an Obama-era regulation that would have blocked mentally ill individuals receiving Social Security benefits from being able to purchase firearms. Instead, Republicans voted to repeal that policy earlier this year.

Thompson spoke just before the Air Force admitted on Monday that it failed to follow policies for alerting federal law enforcement about the shooter Devin Kelley's violent past, enabling the former service member, who killed at least 26 churchgoers Sunday in Sutherland Springs, Texas, to obtain firearms before the shooting rampage.

Kelley should have been barred from purchasing firearms and body armor because of his domestic violence conviction in 2014 while serving at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. Kelley was sentenced to a year in prison and kicked out of the military with a bad conduct discharge following two counts of domestic abuse against his wife and a child, according to Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek.

Also Monday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, announced that his panel would soon hold a hearing on "bump stocks," an obscure device used to make some semiautomatic weapons fire like automatic weapons. The device was found on some firearms used in the mass shooting last month in Las Vegas that was the deadliest in modern U.S. history.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is reviewing whether it can reverse an Obama-era ruling that legalized bump stocks or whether Congress would have to enact legislation. ATF officials are set to brief members of the House Judiciary Committee on their review this week.

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