Democrats fail to force vote on bill establishing select panel on gun violence

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Shotguns are shown for sale at the AO Sword gun store in El Cajon, California, January 5, 2016. President Barack Obama said on Monday his new executive actions to tighten gun rules were “well within” his legal authority and consistent with the U.S. right to bear arms, a warning to opponents who are likely to challenge them in court. REUTERS/Mike Blake – RTX21677

WASHINGTON – Two days after a mass shooting at a Texas church, Democratic lawmakers failed Tuesday to force a vote on legislation establishing a select committee on preventing gun violence.

The proposal is among more than 30 pieces of legislation introduced by Democrats this year to combat gun violence and bolster federal funding to research and assist people with mental illness and the effects of gun violence. Of those bills, just four have Republican sponsors, according to a document compiled by Democratic aides and shared with The Washington Post.

The measure that Democrats failed to advance Tuesday was introduced 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, look at 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 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 sponsored by 158 other Democrats and no Republicans.

During scheduled votes on other bills, Democrats used procedural motions to try to introduce the bill on the floor and get a vote. It failed overwhelmingly.

But the development is likely to spark fresh Democratic 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 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 this year.

Concerns about how gun-control laws are enforced came to light Monday as the Air Force acknowledged that it failed to follow policies for alerting federal law enforcement about 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 after two counts of domestic abuse against his wife and a child, according to Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek.

Ryan said Tuesday that the Air Force’s oversight will earn congressional scrutiny.

“This man should not have had a gun. . . . How did this slip through the cracks? . . . How did he slip through the system and get a gun?” Ryan said in his first public comments on the shooting.

Ryan added his “deep sorrow” for the victims, saying, “There should be no more safe place from the evils of the world than a house of worship.”

Also Monday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, announced that his panel would soon hold a hearing on “bump stocks,” a 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.