Bowing to political pressure, House Speaker Paul Ryan revealed Thursday that he plans to allow a vote next week on legislation aimed at restricting terror suspects from buying guns.
The Wisconsin Republican has not said what bill he has in mind. But House GOP aides said the Speaker appears set on a National Rifle Association-backed measure that requires federal agents to meet high due process standards before blocking a gun sale.
Allowing a vote on such a measure could appease fellow House Republicans, wary of inaction in the face of polls that show large majorities of Americans favor legislation to close the so-called terror gap in the wake of the June 12 mass shooting in Orlando. It could also put pressure on House Democrats, who staged a dramatic sit-in last week to force Ryan to allow votes on two gun bills.
House Democrats have said they want legislation that prevents people on terrorist watch lists from buying guns, and also expands mandatory background checks to gun shows and online sales. They have threatened to renew their sit-in if these measures aren’t put up for a vote.
It is unlikely that any NRA-backed bill will meet the threshold Democrats have set.
Still, Ryan’s concession is notable. He previously said tightening gun laws “is not how you stop terrorism,” and downplayed the need for new laws affecting terror suspects. “If a person is on a terror watch list and they go try to buy a gun, we have procedures in place to deal with that,” Ryan told CNN last week during Democrats’ sit-in.
Ryan’s reversal shows that Democrats were able to force a least modest concessions by pressing the issue.
What’s in the bill?
According to House aides and media reports, Ryan said he would allow a vote on legislation limiting firearms purchases by people suspected of terror ties. The measure would be part of a larger package of anti-terror bills.
House GOP aides said they expect Ryan to bypass bipartisan measures that are similar to two bills introduced in the Senate: one from California Democrat Dianne Feinstein that would allow the Attorney General to block hundreds of thousands of people on a terror watch list from buying guns, and one from Maine Republican Susan Collins, which bars purchases from suspects on two smaller lists from gun purchases.
Instead, the proposal Ryan will allow to come up for a vote will likely be similar to one introduced by Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas that was drafted with NRA input. Representative Lee Zeldin, a New York Republican, has offered a version of the plan in the House. Cornyn’s proposal, defeated alongside Feinstein’s in the Senate, would require the Justice Department to show probable cause with 72 hours to block a gun sale. Democrats have said that this imposes too high a burden on law enforcement, and would not be workable.
Republicans backing tougher measures appeared divided over Ryan’s move. Representative Bob Dold, an Illinois Republican who backs House version of Collins’s bill, urged Ryan to take up that plan instead, Reuters reported.
Scott Rigell, a Virginia Republican, is backing the Collins bill, but his spokeswoman said he would also treat the passage of the Cornyn bill as a victory.
Ryan told Republicans that he also plans to allow a vote on a bill that addresses gun violence and mental health concerns.
House Democrats said Thursday that while they were unsure what Ryan plans, they would view action on a proposal like Cornyn’s as insufficient.
“House Democrats will keep up our efforts to push for the majority to allow a vote on gun violence legislation, but bringing up a bill authored by the NRA just isn’t going to cut it,” Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.
Democrats left open the prospect of renewing their sit-in, but suggested they might try other steps to press their call for action on gun laws.
With lawmakers in their districts during a recess, staffers said Democrats will take a queue from constituents pressing them for stronger gun regulations.
“I don’t think Democrats are gonna come back and say, ‘okay, okay, we’re over it,’” said an aide to one senior House Democrat. “If Republicans think a half-assed attempt is going to satisfy people, they are probably wrong.”
[Photo: AP Photo/Evan Vucci]