WASHINGTON — Spurred by the deadliest school shooting in nearly a decade, Senate Democrats made plans to hold votes next month on House-passed measures to expand criminal background checks prior to gun purchases.
Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing the day after a gunman killed 19 students and two adults at a Texas elementary school, said there would likely be a floor vote on those bills after the chamber’s Memorial Day break.
“It’s too late to prevent the last shooting. We’ve already failed those victims and families,” Durbin, the committee chairman, said Wednesday. “We need to act to prevent the next shooting. We need to identify the risks and threats and finally do something.”
Durbin nodded to the years of gridlock that has stopped gun control bills from passing Congress, including HR 8 and HR 1446, both of which the House passed in March 2021. The first bill would expand background checks for gun sales, the other would increase to 10 days the time a purchaser must wait for that background check.
“I think it’s time for the Senate to vote on it,” Durbin said. “It takes bipartisanship to pass anything in the United States Senate in an evenly divided Senate, but we should vote. That’s why we were elected.”
Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, in remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday, blamed Republicans for blocking the background check bills but urged some of them to find a way forward.
“It is unacceptable to the American people to think that there not 10 of my Republican colleagues, just 10, 1 out of 5 over here, who would be ready to work to pass something that would reduce this plague of gun violence,” Schumer said.
But if there’s not a bipartisan bill, “we will continue to pursue this issue on our own,” Schumer said. “We have no choice. It’s too important. Lives are at stake.”
Schumer on Tuesday took a procedural step to open up options for the two background check bills, including the possibility of setting up floor votes. President Joe Biden urged congressional action in remarks Tuesday night.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in floor remarks Wednesday, did not mention any potential legislation or other action the Senate could take in the wake of the shooting. The Kentucky Republican called the shooter a “maniac,” and said it is “literally sickening” to think about the innocent lives lost.