Gun control groups are urging the Senate to pass Democrats’ gun bills after mass shootings at Atlanta-area spas left eight dead. 

Advocates for stricter gun laws want Congress to prioritize Democratic-led bills that would expand background checks on gun sales, prevent domestic abusers from owning firearms and ban assault weapons. They’ve also called attention to the recent spike in violent crimes against Asian Americans. Six of Tuesday’s shooting victims were women of Asian descent, according to local authorities.

“As facts continue coming in, it is clear that guns are too often weaponized as a tool of hate. This must end,” gun control group Giffords said in a tweet Wednesday.

Gun control groups have their eyes on the Senate, which is set to take up a pair of gun bills passed by the House last week. Democrats’ H.R. 8, which drew eight Republican supporters, would require background checks on private gun sales. The other bill, which passed with two Republican votes, would give authorities 10 days to run background checks before a gun sale can be completed. Under current law, if background checks are not done within three days, the sale may proceed.

House Democrats were also expected to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act Wednesday, which is opposed by the National Rifle Association over a provision that prevents convicted domestic abusers from owning firearms. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters last week that Democrats’ gun control bills will be voted on to put Republicans on the record. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on gun violence on Tuesday. Democrats have also introduced a bill that would ban assault weapons. 

The Senate has been elusive for gun control advocates. The closest the Senate came to passing gun control legislation was in 2013, shortly after the devastating Sandy Hook shooting. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) sponsored a bill to expand background checks that fell just a few votes short of the 60-vote filibuster threshold.

Gun control groups, emboldened by Democrats’ 2020 wins and the NRA’s recent struggles, are hoping this time will be different. 

“Democrats are in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. The NRA is in the weakest shape it’s ever been,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety told the Associated Press. “It’s become clear that gun-safety laws aren’t only good life-saving policies, they’re good politics.”

For decades, the NRA and other gun rights groups had far more influence in Washington than groups pushing for stricter gun laws. But following a wave of mass shootings, gun control groups outspent gun rights groups for the first time in the 2018 midterms to elect Democrats. Everytown for Gun Safety has emerged as a powerful force after receiving millions from some of the nation’s wealthiest individuals, including Michael Bloomberg and Connie Ballmer, wife of former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

The NRA regained its footing in 2020, spending $29 million to gun control groups’ $23.5 million. But the NRA lost many of its biggest bets, spending just 18 percent of that money on winning candidates. The group spent $16.5 million backing former President Donald Trump over President Joe Biden, and nearly $6 million in the Georgia runoffs that ultimately handed Democrats control of the Senate.

The NRA has been plagued by legal battles and lower revenues in recent years. The group filed for bankruptcy in January, attempting to move to Texas to avoid a corruption investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James. The NRA’s lobbying spending fell to just $2.2 million in 2020, its lowest total in over a decade.

Still, the group has been aggressively pushing Republicans to reject Democrats’ gun bills, calling them “a transparent attempt by gun control advocates in Congress to restrict the rights of law-abiding Americans under the guise of addressing the violent criminal culture in America.”

Some Democrats have expressed interest in getting Republicans on board with expanded background checks. They point to a recent Morning Consult poll finding that 84 percent of Americans support a measure requiring background checks on all gun purchases. 

Still, the measure was even more popular in 2019, when the NRA convinced Trump to oppose expanded background checks, effectively killing the bill in the then-Republican Senate. That’s why prominent Democrats don’t believe they can win 10 GOP senators over. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) is urging Democrats to remove the filibuster and pass the bills with a simple majority. Schumer told reporters last week that if Republicans aren’t on board, Democrats would “come together as a caucus and figure out how we’re going to get this done.”

Under current filibuster rules, Republicans can easily block most Democratic priorities from becoming law. Manchin has consistently stated he will not vote to eliminate the filibuster, but said he would support a “talking filibuster” that requires senators to speak on the floor to block legislation. Biden said this week he supports that change.

This week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) threatened to grind Senate business to a halt if Democrats make changes to the filibuster.

“Let me say this very clearly for all 99 of my colleagues: Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin, can even begin, to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

This article originally appeared on OpenSecrets.Org: The Center for Responsive Politics on Wednesday, March 17, 2021.


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