House members response on Parkland gun policy agenda shows party divide

Congressional support for the Parkland gun measures.


By CHRISTOPHER INGRAHAM | The Washington Post | Published: May 22, 2018

A student walked into Santa Fe High School outside Galveston, Texas on Friday and began shooting his classmates, murdering eight students and two teachers.

The horrific shooting comes at a time of increased focus on gun policy issues nationwide, brought to the forefront by survivors of another school shooting in Parkland, Florida, just three months ago.

Following that shooting, a group of student survivors laid out a policy agenda consisting of five items intended to help reduce the toll of American gun violence. Those items include:

  1. Dedicated funding for the CDC to research gun violence
  2. Strengthening the ATF's ability to track and record gun sales
  3. Universal background checks for gun purchases
  4. A ban on magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition
  5. A ban on assault weapons, including a registration or buyback program for these weapons already in circulation

Before the Santa Fe shooting, The Washington Post contacted the office of every U.S. representative, multiple times if necessary, to gauge their support or opposition to the proposals, which have yet to be codified into a single bill. We found that while many Democrats were eager to support the proposals, most Republicans did not seem to want to engage on the issue, as evidenced by the high rate of nonresponse among Republican members.

Just 12 percent of the House Republican delegation - 29 out of 237 members - responded to repeated Post attempts, via multiple emails and phone calls, to seek comment on the issue. Most of those who did respond offered forceful statements of opposition to the proposals.

"One more law won't stop mentally ill or hostile people from killing others," said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz. "We need to educate our people about the reality of this and not pass more useless laws or stomp on people's right to self defense and other civil rights."

Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., struck a similar tone. "I am a staunch supporter of citizen's right to protect themselves - no law abiding citizen's Second Amendment rights should be infringed."

By contrast, more than three-quarters of the House Democratic delegation responded to Post inquiries, with nearly all of them affirming their support for the Parkland proposals in full.

"I strongly support the Second Amendment and the rights of responsible gun owners; however, there is no reason for civilians to possess these weapons of war that are being used in a number of these mass shootings," said Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif.

"I support these students. I support their proposals," said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. "They remind me of my generation of students and young people in the 1960s."

Notably, all four Democratic House leaders -- Leader Nancy Pelosi, D.-Calif., Whip Steny Hoyer, D.-Md., Assistant Leader James Clyburn, D.-S.C., and Caucus Chairman James Crowley, D.-N.Y. - said they support the Parkland students' gun policy agenda. That's a striking reversal from just two years ago, when House Democratic leadership balked at pursuing somewhat controversial gun control policies such as a renewed assault weapons ban.

All told, 182 lawmakers, representing 42 percent of the 430 seats currently occupied, have responded to The Post's request for comment. But what about the other 58 percent?

Given The Post's extensive efforts to contact every lawmaker, nonresponse may be its own type of response: a deliberate refusal to engage on the issue. It's telling that the overwhelming majority - 84 percent - of non-respondents were Republicans. Given congressional Republicans' consistent opposition to tighter restrictions on gun ownership during the past decade, this may not be surprising.

But a number of Democrats declined to respond as well. Notable Democratic non-respondents include Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas (currently hoping to unseat Republican Senator Ted Cruz) and Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, who holds the most Republican-leaning district of any Democratic congressman, according to the Cook Political Report. The Post again contacted O'Rourke's office after Friday's school shooting but did not get any reply.

The students from Parkland have successfully pushed for tighter gun regulations in a number of states and localities since February, when a student came to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and 17 students and educators.

But on a nationwide level, the responses and non-responses from House members suggest the Parkland students' agenda, if wrapped into a single bill, would not pass. Indeed, it would be unlikely to even get a vote under GOP control, as party leaders rarely bring up legislation that lacks support from their own majority.

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