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Washington Post - House Democrats unveil gun-control proposals

February 7, 2013
In The News

By Ed O'Keefe

House Democrats unveiled a 15-point plan to address gun violence Thursday, capping weeks of deliberations within their caucus and with groups for and against stricter controls on the flow of weapons.

A group chaired by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) — a combat veteran and gun owner — settled on a 15-point plan that largely mirrors proposals put forth last month by President Obama and Vice President Biden.

Speaking at the House Democratic policy retreat in Northern Virginia, Thompson said that no matter what legislation they support, Democrats will not back any attempt to infringe on Second Amendment rights.

"I'm a hunter and I'm a gun owner and I believe that we should protect law-abiding citizens' rights to own firearms," Thompson told reporters. "I'm not interested in giving up my guns, and I wouldn't ask anyone else to give up their guns."

The 20-page proposal begins with an affirmation of Democratic support for the Second Amendment, but notes the Supreme Court's decision in the 2008 case District of Columbia vs. Heller, that the constitutional right to bear arms "is not unlimited."

"Within the limits described by Heller, the federal government has the responsibility to take appropriate steps to protect our citizens from gun violence," the document says.

Thompson's working group also calls for a new federal ban on military-style assault weapons, which the group said "constitute a lethal threat to law enforcement and other first responders."

"I'm a wounded combat veteran and I carried an assault weapon in Vietnam," Thompson told reporters when he unveiled the proposals. "I've seen them in action, I know what they're used for, I know what they're designed for and I know what they can do. And they don't have any place in our streets or in our communities. If I've never seen another assault weapon, I've seen too many."

The plan also includes calls for universal background checks and more money for the Justice Department's national criminal background check system, as well as more federal dollars to fund mental health, school security programs, gun buy-back programs and scientific research on "the relationship between popular culture and gun violence."

When asked, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) initially dodged questions on whether she believed an assault weapons ban could ever pass a Congress divided between Democratic and Republican support — and a Senate dominated by moderate Democrats, many of whom face reelection in 2014.

"I think there's justification – and I support – an assault weapons ban," Pelosi said.

"I think we have to try to have the boldest possible package that reduces gun violence and I don't think we should try to find the slowest route right now," she added later. "I think we should move as boldly as possible and see where we come out, rather than throwing in the towel on something that has no justification."

Thompson's 12-member group included Reps. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) and Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who have personal experiences with gun violence. (Barber and Speier are gunshot survivors, while McCarthy's husband was killed in the 1993 Long Island Railroad shooting.) But the group also included Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.), Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and David Price (D-N.C.), who have closer ties to gun rights groups and are avid hunters. The group held several meetings with representatives of the National Rifle Association, the Motion Picture Association of America and other groups on either side of the debate.

Left unsaid Thursday is how Democrats plan to push for passage of these proposals in the Republican-controlled House. GOP leaders have said they will not move forward on any gun-control legislation until after the Senate acts.

But in a potential opening for bipartisan compromise, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Tuesday that he supports improving the federal background-check system for gun buyers — the same day that two suburban Republican lawmakers backed a bipartisan proposal to make federal gun trafficking a federal crime for the first time.