Conservatives offer stark warning to Trump, GOP on background checks – By Alexander Bolton (The Hill) / Sept 13 2019
Senate conservatives are warning President Trump and their own leaders to tread carefully in the gun-control debate and caution they risk a political backlash by striking a deal with Democrats to expand background checks for firearms sales.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Thursday said if Republicans strike a deal with Democrats to require all firearms sales over the Internet or at gun shows to go through background checks, they would demoralize their conservative base ahead of next year’s presidential election.
“If Republicans abandon the Second Amendment and demoralize millions of Americans who care deeply about Second Amendment rights, that could go a long way to electing a President Elizabeth Warren,” Cruz said at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, referring to the liberal Democrat from Massachusetts who is running for president.
“We’re going to see record-shattering Democratic turnout. The only element missing to ensure Democratic victory is demoralizing conservatives so they stay home. I hope we don’t do that,” Cruz said in response to a question about the reaction from conservatives if Trump signs onto a bill similar to the 2013 gun-control amendment sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).
The Manchin-Toomey proposal would require background checks for all sales over the Internet and at gun shows but exempt sales between family members, friends and coworkers who conduct transactions in person.
Other Senate Republicans say they have weighed in either with the White House or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to warn of a potential backlash from the right.
“It is a slippery slope and gun-rights advocates understand that,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).
“We passed the Brady bill, it hasn’t prevented these things,” he added, referring to the 1994 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which imposed a waiting period a dealer must observe before selling a firearm.
Johnson argues that expanding background checks puts a burden on law-abiding citizens and likely would do little to prevent future mass shootings.
“When you really understand what the endgame of the left is, it’s literally mandatory buy-backs or as I call it: confiscation. This is a step-by-step process for them,” Johnson said of what he suspects Democrats’ ultimate goal is.
“I’ve certainly talked to people in the White House sharing the feelings of gun-rights advocates in Wisconsin,” he added.
Sen. Steve Daines (R), who faces election in Montana next year, said he has told GOP leaders that there’s strong opposition to expanding background checks in his home state.
“We want to make sure that anything that is done by Congress actually does something to make us significantly safer. Extensive background checks already exist today,” Daines said.
“As I traveled some 7,000 miles around Montana during the month of August, 31 different communities, 21 different counties, the consensus is that more gun control is not the answer,” he added.
Daines said the Senate should focus on other ways to combat gun violence, such as legislation to address juvenile justice issues.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said there is broad sentiment within the Senate Republican conference that Congress doesn’t have the authority to require background checks for firearms sales between individuals who are not licensed gun dealers.
Rounds said the 2013 Manchin-Toomey proposal, which a group of lawmakers including Manchin, Toomey and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) are using as a basis for discussions with the White House, fails to pass constitutional muster.
“What I’m looking for is legislation that would actually make a difference, that would still stand the constitutional test involved. I have not yet seen it and I don’t think that particular one stands it either,” he said. “I think there are some challenges when you start talking about regulating between two parties, particularly within the same state.”
“We keep trying to regulate individuals who are not causing problems,” he said, referring to law-abiding gun owners. “We just haven’t seen a proposal that’s going to fix the issues we’re dealing with here. We have to get back to mental health.
“This is fairly widespread within our conference,” he added.
Rounds said he’s also hearing concern from constituents about the push for so-called “red flag” laws that would empower law enforcement to confiscate guns from people judged to be dangerous to themselves or others.
The sentiments expressed by conservative lawmakers signal that Trump is likely to be met with a backlash from the right if he proposes an expansion of background checks that goes far enough to win Democratic support.
Democrats say they want Trump to agree to expanding background checks to include all commercial sales, a proposal that passed the House in February but which the White House immediately threatened to veto.
Democrats now say they will not agree to anything that falls short of the 2013 Manchin-Toomey proposal.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, on Thursday signaled that Democrats would reject a proposal that fails to extend background checks to all online and gun-show sales.
“Something substantially weaker than that would be hard” to accept, Stabenow said.
And Murphy, a lead Democratic negotiator, on Wednesday said that many Democrats want to pass a law more in line with the House-passed bill, H.R. 8, which requires background checks for all gun sales with exceptions for transfers between close family members.
“A lot of Democrats would say the world has changed since Manchin-Toomey was passed. The broad experience of American gun violence since 2013 would tell you that Manchin-Toomey isn’t enough,” Murphy told The Hill Wednesday afternoon.
The prospect of a backlash from conservatives has negotiators worried that White House staff may try to hold Trump back from cutting a landmark deal on gun control.
“I feel the president’s enthusiasm. He’s very engaged in every conversation and I’ve had quite a few of them. I just hope his staff doesn’t hold him back,” Manchin told reporters Thursday afternoon.
Manchin argued that Trump would broaden his popularity by endorsing a proposal to significantly expand background checks.
He noted that Trump also faced pushback from the right on banning so-called bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic rifles to fire like machine guns.
“I told him people would push back on him on bump stocks but he did it. It never affected him, it never affected his base at all. If anything, I think this would expand his base,” Manchin said.
The Trump administration banned bump stocks in December in response to a mass shooting in Las Vegas where the gunman used the device to kill 58 people.