Congress has lost most of its battles with NRA
Part 1 of 2
WASHINGTON - As gun-safety forces in Congress push for new curbs on gun rights, with the first round of votes soon to begin, they are haunted by a record of nearly total failure over the past generation in legislative battles with the National Rifle Association.
The last time they prevailed over the NRA in a major federal policy fight was in 1994, when President Bill Clinton signed into law a ban on the sale and manufacture of high-capacity ammunition clips and certain models of assault weapons. This followed their success a year earlier in gaining enactment of "the Brady bill," a measure requiring a five-day wait for handgun purchases and establishing a national database of criminals.
But over the past 20 years, the NRA and its congressional allies have dominated the legislative process when it comes to firearms, adding several of their measures to the U.S. code while turning back every bill or amendment viewed as a threat to gun rights and challenging judicial nominees seen as wobbly on the Second Amendment.
Between 1995-2011, Congress voted into law measures that stripped the District of Columbia government of most its gun controls; awarded firearms manufacturers broad immunity against lawsuits; authorized airline pilots to carry firearms in the cockpit; allowed those in bankruptcy to keep possession of up to three firearms; authorized private citizens to carry guns on Amtrak and in national parks, and permitted firearms sales over the Internet.
After Congress conducted no gun votes in 2012, the Senate last month handed the NRA a victory by blocking President Obama's nomination of Caitlin J. Halligan for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. She crossed the NRA in 2003 by asserting that gun manufacturers could be sued for the misuse of their products by third parties. She was solicitor general for New York State at the time.
And in policy wins occurring without benefit of record votes and the accompanying public scrutiny, NRA-backed lawmakers in recent years have hemmed in the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco by steps such as limiting its budget, restricting its ability to gather records of gun sales and refusing to allow the Senate to confirm an AFT director. This year, Congress - or at least the Democratic-controlled Senate - is taking another serious look at federal measures to reduce gun violence, acting in large part in response to the massacre last December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which a gunman used a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle, holding 30-bullet magazines, to kill 20 young children and six teachers.
The Senate is expected by mid-April to take up bills that would expand background checks to cover nearly all gun sales and crack down on straw purchasers who buy guns for criminals. Senators may also vote on whether to reinstate the ban on assault weapons and limits on the size of magazines.
"Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress," President Obama told lawmakers in his State of the Union address in February. "If you want to vote 'no,' that's your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun."
In response, the NRA said, "When you listen to (Obama) talk about new gun laws, you may think he sounds reasonable. But what happens when you look at the details behind the president's policies?" The assault weapons ban, the NRA continued, "will not work without mandatory gun confiscation and universal background checks will not work without requiring national gun registration."
Senators such as Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, say they will lead a filibuster to keep the Senate from even starting debate on the package. In the GOP-controlled House, leaders have been non-committal on whether they would bring to the floor any bills sent over by the Senate.
(Coming Tuesday: Spotlighting 18 of the most prominent gun votes in Congress over the past 10 years.)