The Ideal GOP Gun Bill Is No Bill At All

A Senate deal on guns would leave many Republicans with a dilemma: Say you aren’t for any changes or be forced to name what you’d accept.

WASHINGTON ― Republicans outside of the small group of senators negotiating a potential bipartisan gun control deal aren’t exactly cheering for the group to succeed.

Several House Republicans told HuffPost this week that when it comes to federal law and firearms, the status quo is fine, regardless of the occasional high-profile mass shooting.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) said she doesn’t favor any new gun laws.

“We don’t need any. We have one, it’s called the Second Amendment,” she said. “Murder’s already illegal.”

Along similar lines, Rep. Chip Roy (Texas) said real solutions were not being talked about by Democrats.

“We’re not talking about school security. We’re not talking about all the cultural nonsense that’s going on,” he said.

Greene’s position was more concrete than many Republicans were willing to lay out. With attention focused on bipartisan gun negotiations in the Senate, other House Republicans took more of a wait-and-see approach, saying they wanted to evaluate what emerges from those talks before declaring if they could support any changes.

As long as the Senate group is still working, it allows everyone not involved in the talks to take a step back and avoid specifics.

Twelve-term House member Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who grew up steeped in gun culture, with a hobbyist father who built guns by hand, and who campaigned in 1984 for a state legislature seat in a pickup with a “God bless the NRA” sticker, was determinedly vague.

“I don’t know yet. I’m not willing to disclose that yet,” he said Wednesday during House votes on a Democratic gun safety bill. “There are common-sense reforms that you could do.”

Some Senate Republicans not party to the ongoing negotiations have been similarly reticent to say whether they favor specific changes. Several senators have told HuffPost they didn’t necessarily oppose the idea of raising the buying age on rifles, but they didn’t want to embrace it, either.

“It’s good that members on both sides of the aisle aren’t ruling out different provisions right now,” said Sen. Todd Young (Ind.), who boasted an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund when he ran for Senate in 2016. “So we’ll see when they come back what has bipartisan buy-in for the package and I’ll give it very strong consideration.”

The Senate negotiation is essentially an exercise in seeing if Republicans will agree to small changes in the federal background check process they would normally oppose in exchange for whatever they want on mental health and school security. House Republicans aren’t even at the table.

“In the short term, I don’t think the answer is to restrict the number of good folks with guns and the right to defend themselves, and there’s a reason why nobody goes to a police station or to a gun rally and try to shoot up the place,” said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.).

“You can’t legislate evil to go away,” he said.

Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) downplayed the need for new gun laws, despite a recent spate of mass shootings. "You can't legislate evil to go away," he said.
Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) downplayed the need for new gun laws, despite a recent spate of mass shootings. "You can't legislate evil to go away," he said.
Tom Williams/Getty Images

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said he’s closely watching the Senate negotiations and set the bar high for a bipartisan approach.

“I do know there’s a serious attempt to do something over there. There’s not over here. So if something gets through, particularly with a substantial margin — where it’s not 60 [votes], but it’s in the 70s — then I’m going to sit down and look,” he said.

Cole acknowledged new gun restrictions face steep odds among his colleagues. “I think the majority of Republicans would probably be inclined to vote no and leave the issue to the states, but, again, let’s wait and see what they do” in the Senate, he said.

That tentativeness to offer detail stood in contrast with Democratic proposals in two bills on the House floor this week. Major provisions in Wednesday’s bill and the number of GOP votes they received included:

  • Prohibiting the purchase of semiautomatic weapons for people younger than 21 (10 votes)

  • Tightening restrictions against “straw purchases” of guns (seven votes)

  • Prohibiting untraceable “ghost guns” (eight votes)

  • Requiring gun safes or secure locations if guns are stored where they could be accessed by minors (three votes)

  • Restricting bump stocks and high-capacity gun magazines (13 votes)

Thursday’s bill would have set up a federal version of state-level “red flag” laws, which would make it illegal for people deemed a risk to themselves or others to possess or obtain weapons.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said most Republicans "would probably be inclined to vote no and leave the issue to the states, but, again, let’s wait and see what they do” in the Senate.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said most Republicans "would probably be inclined to vote no and leave the issue to the states, but, again, let’s wait and see what they do” in the Senate.
Alex Wong via Getty Images

Though both bills passed, they are considered doomed in the Senate and each received only five votes from House Republicans ― and only one of the five is running for reelection.

Not every Republican was vague. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.) touted two specific bills — one he authored, another he co-sponsored with a Democratic lawmaker — that he said could get bipartisan support if they came to the floor.

“There are multiple bills that would actually have a chance to become law and, more important than that, would actually help save lives,” he said.

But the bills Diaz-Balart cited are much less sweeping than the Democratic proposals. One would create a federal clearinghouse to share school safety best practices and the other would require the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center, which studies targeted violent attacks, to research school violence and offer training on school violence prevention.

Asked to name a change he could support, Roy said he wanted to look at laws that would allow committing people who have mental health issues. Cole said he favored looking at mental health and guns as well as incentivizing states to pass their own red flag laws.

And, when pressed, Simpson noted he had voted in the past in favor of requiring trigger locks to be sold with guns.

“You look at raising the age to 21 [for buying assault weapons], that’s probably not such a big deal, since you have to be 21 to buy a handgun anyway,” he said.

A waiting period of “a few extra days” because of expanded background checks for gun buyers would be inconvenient, he said, but “you could probably put up with stuff like that.”

Simpson said it was still up in the air if the political environment had shifted on guns, though he added that “the feeling is it’s kind of changed.”

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), who voted for both House bills this week, said it was not enough to simply look at “hardening” schools and rethinking mental health and guns.

“There is a legislative component — people cannot be afraid to address it,” he said. “You got to do it.”

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