WASHINGTON – Congress faces renewed public pressure for tougher gun laws after several mass shootings in recent weeks, yet as lawmakers return from their August recess, the prospects for significant action are limited.
While House Democrats have already passed legislation to expand background checks and are considering broader measures, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who’s consistently opposed new gun laws, has made clear nothing will move without a clear signal from President Donald Trump.
Trump has been ambivalent. After 31 people were killed in mass shootings in Texas and Ohio over one weekend at the beginning of August, Trump said he had “an appetite” for bolstering background checks. This week, as he has in the past, he backpedaled.
“If you look at background checks and if you look at some of even the more severe and comprehensive ideas that are being put forward, it wouldn’t have stopped any of the last few years’ worth of these mass shootings,” he told reporters Wednesday at the White House.
The uncertainty in Washington comes as external pressure is growing. Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for requiring background checks for all gun buyers. A Quinnipiac University Poll conducted Aug. 21-26 found 93% of respondents – including 89% of Republicans – back more extensive background checks. Six in 10 said they support banning the military-style semi-automatic rifles like those used in recent mass killings, including one at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 3 in which 22 people died.
Walmart Inc., which for years was among America’s biggest sellers of handguns and assault-style weapons, announced this week it would no longer sell ammunition for such firearms once their stocks are depleted. Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon, in a statement to employees, reiterated his call for Congress to debate an assault weapons ban and said background checks should be strengthened.
The world’s biggest retailer was joined by grocery-store chain Kroger Co. and drugstore chains Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and CVS Health Corp. in asking customers to refrain from openly carrying firearms in their stores, despite moves in some Republican-controlled states, including Texas, to loosen restrictions on toting weapons in public.
Gun control also is taking on significance in the 2020 battle for control of the White House, the Senate and the House. Notably, almost all of the leading Democratic presidential candidates are calling for a reinstatement of the 1994 federal ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004, including front-runner and former Vice President Joe Biden as well as Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.
Michael Bloomberg, owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, founded and helps fund Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for universal background checks and other gun violence prevention measures.
The Democrat-led House voted in February to expand criminal background checks to would-be gun buyers on the internet and at gun shows. Another approved bill would prevent a gun sale from going forward if a background check isn’t finished within three days.
House Democrats also plan hearings on other proposals in the coming weeks, including a ban on high capacity ammunition magazines that allow rapid firing without reloading.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York this week called on McConnell to allow a Senate vote on the House-passed background legislation after it was learned that the gunman in an Aug. 31 shooting spree in Midland and Odessa, Texas, purchased his weapon from a private seller, avoiding a background check he would have failed.
“If the House-passed background checks bill would have been signed into law, this tragedy could have been avoided,” Schumer said in a statement on Tuesday. He said the Senate should “close these loopholes without delay.”