GOP senator outlines obstacles gun control efforts face in Senate
Two weeks after two mass shootings occurred in less than 24 hours, Congress and the White House have not moved closer to passing any kind of gun legislation to address what many are calling a crisis, and some Republican senators, including Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, don’t think any new gun legislation is likely to pass.
Johnson expressed skepticism about any of the legislation options that have been floated in the past two weeks, including so-called red flag laws — or rules that would allow officials to temporarily remove guns from people in crisis through a court order — as well as strengthening background checks or mandatory gun buyback programs.
“All I can tell you is what I hear in Wisconsin. The debate really hasn’t changed much at all,” Johnson said. “People still ask the same questions. OK, if you propose some kind of gun legislation, first of all, how would that have prevented these tragedies in the past? How would they prevent them in the future?”
Johnson referred to mandatory buyback programs as “compensated confiscation” and said that all of the options that have been proposed are “just a further infringement on second amendment rights.”
“I realize the clamor. I realize the polling, but the polling I don’t think accurately assesses people’s knowledge of what we’re talking about here,” he said.
Johnson also noted that even in places with strict gun legislation, like Chicago, that legislation doesn’t always lead to less crime.
“You take a look at states, you take a look at jurisdictions that have really strong gun control, I mean, look at Chicago. You’ve got a lot of murders in Chicago still. They are just basic facts that need to be plugged into this whole gun discussion,” Johnson said.
When asked about proposed red flag legislation from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, which would not make red flag checks federal law, but would instead incentivize states to implement those kind of laws through a grant program, Johnson said, “I don’t anticipate, that we’re going to pass any federal red flag law, I think all Sen. Graham is talking about is a grant program.”
Red flag laws refer to extreme risk protection order laws, which allow the temporary removal of guns from people deemed at high risk of harming themselves or others through a court order. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have passed some type of these laws, and the details vary from state to state.
“If we have that discussion, if we’re going to offer grants to states to pass red flag laws, we ought to attach to those grants very strict guidelines in terms of due process,” Johnson said.
The debate on gun legislation appears to have narrowed down to a couple of options for passing new legislation regarding background checks required before buying a firearm. The options include a bill proposed by Sens. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, and Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, which would expand background checks on gun sales. That bill failed to advance in 2013. The House passed its own bill in February, H.R. 8, which was also aimed at strengthening background checks on all firearm sales in the country.
When asked if Johnson thinks the Manchin-Toomey bill may go somewhere, Johnson said, “I don’t see the dynamics of it having changed much.”
President Donald Trump initially showed some interest in supporting a background check bill, he walked back his comments on Sunday, stating, “But just remember, we already have a lot of background checks, OK?”
It is true that any company or shop that sells guns must put buyers through a background check in the US. However, in the majority of states, private sellers — those who occasionally sell guns they own and are not trying to turn a profit — do not have to submit a buyer to the federal background check system.
State laws around background checks also vary widely. In 14 states and District of Columbia, for instance, private sellers must subject each buyer to a background check.
Johnson said that White House officials had reached out to his staff, but he had not spoken with the President directly, and the President had not reached out to him.
“If he’s talking to the same people I’ve been talking to, he’d probably be a little bit more careful in terms of saying this for sure is going to happen,” he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the Senate back from August recess and take up the House’s background check bill. McConnell has indicated he does not plan to bring Senators back during August recess.
CNN’s Holmes Lybrand and Jacqueline Howard contributed to this report.