WASHINGTON — Even some liberal Democrats are gloomy about the prospects for major gun-control legislation in this Congress. Only hours after a Senate committee approved new restrictions on semi-automatic weapons and magazines, an outspoken House Democrat expressed doubt that the lower chamber would approve similar measures.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, who received a zero rating from the American Conservative Union in 2010, indicated that President Obama made a revealing comment about the fate of gun-safety bills in Congress during his hour-long visit with House Democrats at the Capitol Thursday afternoon.
“He said that we would get immigration reform done and significant legislation on gun safety. Actually I made that up; he did not say the word significant,” Nadler said with a wan smile in an interview.
Nadler suggested that of the gun curbs Congress is considering, legislation to require background checks for all new purchases of fireams enjoys the best odds of being approved. He did not mention other bills.
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), the leader of gun-control efforts in the House, said the prospects of major legislation in Congress “depend on the members from outside (interest) groups. I’m still hopeful that we can stuff though (the House), but the question is through the Senate.”
Ed Perlmutter (D-Golden), the House sponsor of the assault-weapons ban, told The Observer in January that no Republicans had endorsed his bill publicly. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Denver), a major co-sponsor of several gun-control bills, and a spokeswoman did not respond to two requests for comment.
Nadler’s pessimism came less than three hours after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to ban 230 forms of firearms, approved a new limit on magazine capacity, and crack down on those who buy guns knowingly for people prohibited from owning firearms, such as felons.
President Obama, who has made gun-control legislation a key part of his second-term agenda, thanked the committee for “taking another step forward in our common effort to help reduce gun violence” and said each of the proposals “deserves a vote” in both chambers of Congress.
Yet the Senate panel approved the measures on party-line, 10-8 votes, as no Republican senators supported the bills. Few Democrats representing states that the GOP’s presidential nominee carried last November have said they support major gun restrictions.
Public opinion on major new gun curbs varies. Support for banning semi-automatic weapons depends on the wording used to describe the firearms. A USA Today survey last December found that only 44 percent supported prohibiting “semiautomatic guns known as assault rifles.” A ABC News/Washington Post reported that 57 percent would support a ban on the “sale of assault weapons.”
Support for outlawing straw purchases has been in the 75-90 percent range. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs) reiterated his opposition to universal background checks, limits on magazine capacity, and a ban on semi-automatic weapons, but he indicated he was open to legislation targeting straw purchasers. “I would have to see the details,” Lamborn said in an interview Friday.
Lamborn added he would consider legislation to restrict firearms purchases to those who are severely mentally ill. “Let’s take a better look at mental illness and the mentally ill (who seek to buy guns,” he said.
McCarthy said she needs the backing of 48-50 House Republicans to pass major gun restrictions in the Republican-controlled House, which is considered to be the more difficult of the two chambers to pass new restrictions. She said she does not expect the lower chamber to vote on firearms curbs until the summer.