Congress in gun law gridlock after deadly shootings

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 09, 2015 7:10 PM

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawmakers have dropped a Republican effort to make it easier for felons to buy firearms, as measures on both sides of the gun debate failed to make headway in Congress just days after the massacre of 14 people in California.

Underscoring the divisive nature of gun legislation, Democratic proposals to restrict firearms ownership were also left off the table as lawmakers raced on Wednesday to conclude their work for the year, lobbyists and aides said.

The stalemate -- due in part to members avoiding controversial issues as they wrangle over a must-pass spending bill -- means Congress is on track to leave firearms laws unchanged this year despite a spate of mass shootings.

Lawmakers backed away from a provision supported by the pro-gun National Rifle Association to make it easier for convicted felons to win back their right to own firearms.

The measure, sponsored by Representative Ken Buck, had been adopted by the House of Representatives but has been cut out of the latest version of a federal spending bill, known as the omnibus, that must pass soon to keep the government open.

"At this point it doesn't appear to be in the omnibus," said Greg Brophy, an aide to Buck, a Colorado Republican.

Democratic proposals for tighter gun control were also in trouble.

Democrats have repeatedly failed over the past week to pass legislation that would prevent those on the government's terrorism watch list from buying guns. That measure is also unlikely to be included on the spending bill, lobbyists say.

Long-time provisions known as "riders" that restrict the government's ability to enforce gun laws are expected to remain in this year's spending bill, lobbyists on both sides of the issue told Reuters.

"It's going to be status quo on gun riders. Nothing new this year," said Chris Vieson, a lobbyist for Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that aims to reduce gun violence.

President Barack Obama has repeatedly urged Congress to tighten gun laws, most recently in an Oval Office address following last week's massacre in San Bernardino, California. The Federal Bureau of Investigation classified that shooting, by a couple believed to be Islamist radicals, as a terrorist act.

Opinion polls show wide public support for tighter gun laws, but the NRA is feared and respected in Washington for its ability to mobilize gun owners. Congress has not approved major gun-control legislation since the 1990s.

But pro-gun lawmakers backed by the NRA have made headway in Congress since then by tucking incremental changes into unrelated legislation.

A Pentagon policy bill signed into law by Obama last month included a provision that will make it easier to carry weapons on military bases, as well as two NRA-backed measures to prohibit regulation of lead ammunition and allow gun collectors to buy military surplus pistols.

Democratic and Republican aides on the committees that are writing the spending bill declined to comment and an NRA spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.

(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Alistair Bell)