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Key Republican says new gun legislation is unlikely despite California shootings

Sen. John Cornyn, a Texan who is close to GOP leadership and negotiated the last major gun law, said he doesn't see an appetite for further legislation "anytime soon."
Sen. John Cornyn speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing
Sen. John Cornyn speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington on Tuesday.Al Drago / Bloomberg via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — A top Republican who negotiated the bipartisan gun law that passed last year said he doesn't expect to see new legislative action on gun violence despite the recent mass shootings in California.

“I think we did everything we could do with the votes available last summer, so I don’t see that happening anytime soon,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told NBC News on Thursday.

Cornyn's remark comes in response to renewed calls from President Joe Biden and others for gun safety legislation after two shootings in a three-day span in California that shocked the country.

Cornyn, an ally of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is a key figure in the gun debate. He co-wrote the Safer Communities Act with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., which passed Congress last year and became the most significant new gun safety law in three decades. The law offers “red flag” grants to states and opens the door to accessing juvenile records for firearm buyers aged 18-21.

He said the House switching hands from Democrats to Republicans makes the prospects of new gun legislation even less likely, with GOP lawmakers far more reluctant to regulate firearms as they disproportionately represent rural, pro-gun districts.

“I’d be surprised if the House would be willing to take something up,” Cornyn said on Thursday.

Asked whether the House intends to take up legislation to combat mass shootings, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., gave no indication that it would.

“I would never do anything without having all the information. But having lived in California my entire life, California has the strictest gun laws there are, and apparently, that did not work in this situation too,” McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday.

McCarthy said the recent shooters have different profiles in that they’re “older in age” than many other mass killers.

“Not understanding why this transpired, this horrendous activity that they’ve done — were there signs ahead of time that we could have found? I’ll wait to find any information out,” he said.

The House Judiciary Committee, which oversees gun laws, is currently chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, an outspoken opponent of tougher firearm laws.

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy talks to reporters during a news conference at the Capitol
Speaker Kevin McCarthy talks to reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

In recent years, House Democrats have passed near-universal background checks and bans on “assault” weapons as well as high-capacity magazines. But those measures stalled in the Senate.

Biden negotiated the assault weapons ban of 1994, which expired in 2004. He called on Congress Thursday to revive it.

“It’s time we pass an assault weapons ban in this country. We’ve done it before, and we can do it again,” he wrote on Twitter. “I urge both chambers of Congress to act quickly and deliver this ban to my desk where I’ll promptly sign it into law.”

A trio of freshman Democrats — Reps. Jared Moskowitz and Maxwell Frost, both of Florida, and Dan Goldman of New York — sent House leaders a letter Thursday asking for “a classified briefing for Members of Congress from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other relevant agencies, on mass shootings in America.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., did not commit to new gun votes in the chamber but said he’s trying to gather enough support to prohibit certain types of deadly weapons. Democrats currently have 51 votes but need 60 to break a filibuster.

“Nobody cares more about this than me. I’m the author of the assault weapons ban in 1994. We’re going to keep working to get the requisite number of votes to pass it,” Schumer said Thursday. “It’s one of the things we want to get done.”

“We’re going to keep at it,” he said.

Cornyn said the Safer Communities Act is already “working” — his office was told that one FBI background check center for West Virginia has already stopped gun sales to several dozen people “with disqualifying juvenile records.”

“It’s really an interesting success story,” he said.