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Partisan divide emerges over gun legislation in wake of shootings

Gun-control activists protest Tuesday in Lafayette Park across

Gun-control activists protest Tuesday in Lafayette Park across from the White House. Credit: EPA/Shawn Thew

WASHINGTON — A partisan divide began emerging Tuesday over the best approach to gun legislation following the two deadly mass shootings last weekend, as President Donald Trump planned visits Wednesday to Dayton and El Paso.

Several Republicans are following Trump’s lead by backing legislation to award grants to states for “red flag” laws that restrict firearm access to people deemed dangerous, while Democrats are demanding that the Senate pass two House bills to expand background checks.

The killing of 22 people in El Paso, Texas, in an act of domestic terrorism targeting Latinos and the slaying of nine in an attack in Dayton, Ohio, has led many in those cities to urge local and national lawmakers and leaders to come up with solutions for the increasingly lethal mass shootings.

Trump has promised to find solutions and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) instructed three Senate committee chairmen to engage in discussions of legislation that can pass with bipartisan support in the House and Senate.

Yet Democrats and gun-control advocates expressed skepticism about whether Trump and McConnell will follow through — recalling that after the Parkland High School shooting Trump backtracked on supporting background checks after meeting with the NRA.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday repeated his call to McConnell to bring the Senate back from recess to vote on the House bills.

“Gavel the Senate to an emergency session so we can take immediate action on the bipartisan, already passed, gun legislation,” Schumer said at a news conference with Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) in the parking lot of a Walmart in Westbury.

McConnell, a longtime opponent of gun-control measures, has declined to bring up those House bills for Senate consideration and has not responded to Schumer’s request.

Trump on Monday floated the idea of supporting background checks in return for approval of immigration reform in a tweet, but in his national address talked instead about passing a red flag bill and the death penalty for hate crimes and mass shootings.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told reporters Tuesday that Trump was examining all proposals when asked about the House background check bills.

“This is not about legislation that makes people feel good. It’s about legislation or executive action that actually makes people safer,” he said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) have agreed on a framework for a new Emergency Risk Protection Order statute that offers grants to enable law enforcement and courts to remove guns from a person when there’s a risk of danger.

Among the Republican senators supporting that still-unwritten legislation are Charles Grassley of Iowa and Rob Portman of Ohio. And the NRA’s legislative division issued a statement of support.

Seventeen states, including New York, and the District of Columbia have versions of a law that permits extreme risk protection orders, in which a family member or law enforcement can got to court to remove guns from someone deemed dangerous or a threat.

Major gun-control groups have supported those laws but have rejected the linkage of all mass shootings with mental health issues, saying research does not support that conclusion. And they note that the NRA, despite saying it backs those laws, has opposed them in the states.

Jim Kessler, a longtime gun-control advocate and who directs policy for the centrist Third Way think tank in Washington, said, “I think that’s a good bill, but it definitely qualifies as the least you can do.”

Instead, Kessler joined Democrats and gun-control groups in insisting that the background check bills should be passed by the Senate.

Background checks are the top priority, said Robin Lloyd, managing director of Giffords, founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Capt. Mark Kelly, who’s running for the Senate in Arizona, where his wife was critically injured in a mass shooting in 2011.

“It really does level the playing field,” Lloyd said of the firearms market. “No matter how you buy it, you have to have a background check.”

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