WASHINGTON — With an assist from two Denver-area House Democrats, two lawmakers who support tighter gun curbs say their legislation to restrict the purchase of high-capacity ammunition clips is picking up steam in Congress.
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) said she has rounded up 40 to 60 pledges of support from House Democrats in support of the Stop Online Ammunition Sales Act.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, said he expects the Senate to vote on the legislation this year. “I’m very anxious to get this bill up,” he said in an interview Thursday.
In rounding up co-sponsors for the bill, McCarthy suggested Reps. Diana DeGette of Denver and Ed Perlmutter of Lakewood would play roles.
DeGette is a chief deputy whip and one of the most reliable gun-control supporters in Congress. Perlmutter, whose district includes Aurora, the site of the July 20 shooting massacre that left 12 dead and another 58 injured, has been outspoken about the need for tighter gun curbs.
“We’ll let him do what he wants,” McCarthy said, declining to elaborate.
Perlmutter has been criticized in recent days for politicizing the tragedy, first when he called for new gun control restrictions just days after the shootings, and again after citing the murders as a justification for passage of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as ObamaCare.
DeGette and Perlmutter did not respond to two separate requests for comment.
McCarthy and Lautenberg’s enthusiasm for the bill’s prospects belies previous statements from House and Senate leaders that Congress would not vote on gun-control legislation this year.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, was unavailable at press time. An aide for the House Judiciary Committee declined to name the bills the committee would consider until Congress returns from a five-week recess on Sept. 10.
President Obama encouraged gun-control advocates to impose “common-sense” restrictions on gun sales at a speech in New Orleans on July 25, but otherwise has not spoken out about the need for new gun laws in the wake of the Aurora killings.
McCarthy and Lautenberg’s legislation, which was unveiled at a press conference in New York City on July 30, is composed of four parts. It would require:
– anyone who sells ammunition to be a licensed dealer.
– buyers of ammunition who are not licensed dealers to present photo identification before their purchase.
– licensed ammunition dealers must keep receipts of sales of ammunition.
– ammunition dealers to report sales of more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition to an unlicensed person within five business days.
The odds of two Northeastern Democrats shepherding gun-control legislation through Congress in a presidential-election year would appear slim. Neither McCarthy nor Lautenberg predicted their bill would pass this year.
“I’m hoping. I have to be optimistic,” McCarthy said. “But do I expect (House Speaker) John Boehner to schedule a vote on this from now till the election? No.”
McCarthy said she plans to get the support of Democratic rank-and-file members first and appeal to Democratic leaders later.
When Lautenberg was asked to predict whether the Senate would pass the bill, he demurred. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) a veteran lawmaker close to Democratic leadership and a supporter of stricter curbs on gun rights, suggested that Lautenberg seeks to show Democratic leaders that gun-control legislation has more support in Congress than expected.
“The question is for what purpose are you announcing your bill has support,” Miller said. “I would assume it’s to show strength. He didn’t say he has the votes.”
Miller voted for stricter gun curbs after the Columbine massacre in April 1999, in which two teenage-students shot 13 people and themselves to death. The legislation passed in the Republican-controlled Senate, but died in the more conservative House. Few gun-control bills have passed even one chamber of Congress in the last 13 years.
Lautenberg said his bill would make it more difficult for would-be assailants to possess high-capacity magazine clips. “In the Aurora attack, the gunman’s rifle jammed. If it hadn’t, he would have gotten off 30 more rounds,” he said of James Holmes, the alleged killer.
McCarthy, who worked with the NRA on legislation, portrayed her bill as a common-sense measure in line with recent Supreme Court rulings on the Second Amendment to the Constitution. “The majority of gun owners are good guys. Only 2 percent are bad guys,” she said. “We make it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to get guns. We can’t stop them.”
McCarthy said she sees herself as a tribune for those injured and killed at the hands of gun violence. Her husband was killed and son shot in the head when a gunman opened fire on passengers on the Long Island Rail Road in December 1993. “I feel very strongly I’m a voice for these victims in Colorado. It used to be that gun violence happened in urban areas. It’s in suburban areas now.”
While McCarthy continues her quest, she does not minimize the odds against her bill. “I’m working on three Republicans (to support it),” she said. But she has not won their support yet.