House Republicans are not ruling out passing gun legislation this year, according to a key GOP lawmaker.
The collapse of gun control in the Senate last month led many on and off Capitol Hill to believe the issue would not be revived in this Congress.
But House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) told The Hill on Friday that he’s had “a lot of discussions” with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on guns. Goodlatte suggested the Speaker is more involved in the behind-the-scenes wrangling of how to move a gun bill than the Ohio Republican has let on in public.
“We are trying to improve the system to keep people who are barred under the law from owning firearms, from getting access to them. We don’t think the things that were proposed in the Senate do that. So we have not backed away from trying to figure out how to improve that, but we’ve made no decisions yet about what to do,” Goodlatte explained.
Goodlatte, serving his first year as the head of the Judiciary panel, pointed out that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System needs to be reauthorized before year’s end. The reauthorization could be the vehicle through which the GOP tackles the highly charged issue. Goodlatte, who has an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA), said earlier this year he wants to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) believes the House will deal with guns this year as well. But the top-ranking Democrat favors the background check bill crafted by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). A House companion bill authored by Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) has 159 co-sponsors.
Pelosi said the high number of co-sponsors, only three of which are GOP lawmakers is “remarkable” because many Democrats in her caucus want a bill that includes an assault weapon ban.
She said Thursday that “some have said in both parties, ‘I will vote for [Manchin-Toomey]. I don’t want to be a co-sponsor.’ But to get 160 on a bill that has all the outside mobilization coming down so strongly from the NRA and Gun Owners of America and the rest, it is pretty remarkable.”
Goodlatte will not be moving the Manchin-Toomey bill through his panel. He said a 2010 study showed that U.S. Attorney’s offices did not prosecute thousands of background check offenses that were committed by individuals buying a gun who lied about being in jail or being committed to a mental institution.
Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., last December, Boehner has repeatedly said the Senate would act first on gun reform legislation. The top-ranking House Republican has also told his conference that the GOP needed to have a “conversation” on guns.
Rank-and-file conservatives in the House have said any gun bill that hits the floor must have the support of the majority of the GOP Conference.
But it remains to be seen whether the House will tackle a significant gun bill, especially now that gun control supporters suffered such a stinging defeat last month.
Gun control activists are hopeful that Manchin-Toomey can be tweaked and attract 60 votes. They note the approval ratings of some GOP senators who voted against Manchin-Toomey, including Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.), have taken a nosedive since the amendment was defeated.