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House Republican leaders to work in opposition to Senate gun deal

The legislation could pass with only Democratic votes in the House.
Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise, the top two Republicans in the House, in Washington in June 2021.
Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise, the top two Republicans in the House, in Washington in June 2021.Graeme Sloan / Sipa USA via AP file

WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders formally opposed the bipartisan gun legislation Wednesday and pushed lawmakers to vote against the measure.

Democrats control the House and can likely pass the bill without any Republican support. In the Senate, the deal got enough Republican support Tuesday to clear a procedural hurdle, increasing the odds that the measure will be able to pass the chamber.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., told House Republicans that they oppose the measure at a closed-door meeting Wednesday.

Later in the day, Scalise urged all House Republicans to vote no in an official notice. "This legislation takes the wrong approach in attempting to curb violent crimes," he wrote. "House Republicans are committed to identifying and solving the root causes of violent crimes, but doing so must not infringe upon" Second Amendment rights.

The legislation is likely to receive support from some moderate Republicans. A GOP lawmaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide a frank assessment of Republican deliberations predicted that 10 to 15 House Republicans will defect and vote for the bill, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

Former President Donald Trump, who continues to hold sway over his party, announced his opposition and encouraged Republicans to oppose the legislation.

Rep. Tony Gonzales, a Republican from Uvalde, Texas, announced Wednesday that he will vote for the bill. It was crafted after the mass shooting in his district last month in which 19 children and two teachers were killed, and another in Buffalo, New York, that killed 10 people.

"I am a survivor of domestic abuse, my stepfather would come home drunk & beat on me and my mother. One night he decided that wasn’t enough and shoved a shotgun in my mother’s mouth. I was 5 at the time and not strong enough to fend off the wolves," Gonzales wrote on Twitter, adding that school was his sanctuary from the chaos at home and that he served his country in the Navy for 20 years, including in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As a member of Congress, he said, "it’s my duty to pass laws that never infringe on the Constitution while protecting the lives of the innocent," adding, "In the coming days I look forward to voting YES on the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act."

At least 10 Senate Republicans have signaled that they support the bipartisan bill, which means it is expected to overcome the 60-vote filibuster threshold. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., aims to hold a final vote by the end of the week, before Congress leaves for a two-week July Fourth recess.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she plans to bring the bill to the floor for a vote once it passes in the upper chamber.

Pelosi said in a statement that while more is needed to address gun violence, the legislation has beneficial provisions.

"Communities across the country will benefit from House Democrats’ proposals included in this package, which will help keep deadly weapons out of dangerous hands by encouraging states to establish extreme risk protection order laws and by putting an end to straw purchases," she said. "This legislation will also move to close the 'boyfriend loophole,' which marks strong progress to prevent known abusers from acquiring a firearm."

The House passed legislation this month that included stronger gun-related restrictions. The chamber approved the Protecting Our Kids Act in a 223-204 vote, with five Republicans joining all but two Democrats in support. Democrats Jared Golden of Maine and Kurt Schrader of Oregon opposed the bill. The five Republicans who bucked their party were Chris Jacobs of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

The Senate package includes narrower restrictions. The bill would offer "red flag" grants to every state, including those that do not adopt red flag laws, which could be used on other crisis prevention programs designed to prevent people in crisis from resorting to violence; it would close the so-called "boyfriend loophole"; and it would increase background checks for people 18 to 21 years old. The bill would impose tougher penalties for gun trafficking and "clarify" which sellers must register as federal firearm licensees, which would force them to conduct background checks. The bill would provide more money for mental health and school-based health.

In his notice urging opposition from House Republicans, Scalise said the "vague language" in the red flag provision does not include sufficient "guardrails to ensure that the money is actually going towards keeping guns out of the hands of criminals or preventing mass violence."

The bill would also transform those "under the age of 21 into second class citizens by creating a de facto waiting period of up to ten business days for legal, law-abiding firearm purchases and the consideration of whether an adult firearm purchaser’s juvenile record should prohibit the buyer from purchasing a firearm," he added.

The National Rifle Association quickly announced its opposition, arguing in a statement Tuesday that the legislation "does little to truly address violent crime while opening the door to unnecessary burdens on the exercise of Second Amendment freedom by law-abiding gun owners."

It is the closest Congress has come to passing significant legislation to address gun violence in nearly 10 years. After the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., struck a deal on background checks, but it was defeated in 2013.