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More Dems in Disarray, This Time Over Gun Control

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

It appears that Democrats are in disarray over yet another issue, this time on gun control. Renewed calls for gun control have emerged in response to the tragic shooting at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, including and especially background checks and a ban on so-called "assault weapons," though there isn't a clear and proper definition to describe modern sporting rifles. President Joe Biden's response has been less than consistent with other Democrats, though. Also of concern, his remarks on the Second Amendment have been downright false

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On Wednesday morning, The Hill published Alexander Bolton's, "Biden, Democrats out of sync in pushing assault weapons ban." From his piece:

President Biden and Vice President Harris are calling for bans on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, but they’re out of step with members of their own party who don’t want to vote on those hot-button issues and instead want to focus on more modest reforms.  

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Democratic negotiators in the Senate, however, aren’t talking about a ban on assault-style rifles, like the weapon that a gunman used to kill 21 people at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, or a ban on high-capacity magazines, like the 30-round magazines the shooter took to the school. 

They’re focused on what has a better chance of getting Republican support, like a proposal to expand background checks or encourage states to set up red flag laws that take guns away from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others.  

“It’s really a study of incrementalism, I think that’s what [Sen.] Chris Murphy is doing,” said Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, referring to the lead Democratic negotiator on gun control. 

“He’s come to the realization that if he leads with an assault weapons ban, it’s not going to go anywhere. To get the 10 Republicans you need to break the filibuster, you can’t lead with a strong right hand. You’ve got to spar a little bit,” he said.  

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Biden has taken a more aggressive approach than Senate Democratic negotiators, repeatedly expressing support for banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines while visiting the families of victims in Buffalo last month and on the South Lawn of the White House Monday.  

“I know that it makes no sense to be able to purchase something that can fire up to 300 rounds,” he said Monday, while in Buffalo last month he noted that Congress passed a 10-year assault weapons ban while he was in the Senate.

Harris has been even more direct in calling for an assault weapons ban.  

“We are not sitting around waiting to figure out what the solution looks like,” she said Saturday at a funeral service for one of the Buffalo victims. “We know what works on this. It includes — let’s have an assault weapons ban.”  

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Bolton's piece also goes further on a ban on so-called "assault weapons," including by citing Alex Barrio, the director of advocacy for gun violence prevention policy at the Center for American Progress:

Barrio said he supports Murphy’s cautious approach to negotiating with Republicans but added that if the talks fail to produce a deal, Democrats should force a vote on an assault weapons ban.  

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“We understand why they’re not pushing it,” he said. “Sen. Murphy is in a good-faith negotiation to see what sort of package is possible to get Republican votes.” 

“We know for a fact that no Republican is going to vote for it,” he said of the assault weapons ban.  

“If Republicans pull back from these negotiations … if the Republicans refuse to do anything and they decide at the end that they’re going to be 50 votes ‘no’ on everything,” even proposals to encourage red flag laws, “then I do think the assault weapons [ban] does need to go on the floor, there does need to be a vote,” Barrio said.   

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Thirty-seven members of the Senate Democratic Caucus have co-sponsored Feinstein’s proposed assault weapons ban.  

Two Democrats in tough reelection races, Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), haven’t signed on to Feinstein’s bill, but two other vulnerable Democrats —  Sens. Maggie Hassan (N.H.) and Raphael Warnock (Ga.) — have done so.  

Again, though, it's particularly concerning that such a ban lacks a proper definition. And, as Matt has warned, Republicans in favor of gun control could risk blowing the midterms for the party. 

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That Biden wants to ban the unhelpfully, undefined so-called assault weapons is problematic, but not the only issue, as Katie highlighted earlier on Wednesday. When it comes to whether he's had any role in trying to get legislation passed, Biden told reporters on Monday that he hasn't met with Republicans yet for negotiations.

Further, as Leah highlighted, Biden also made stunning and factually incorrect comments about 9mm hand guns to members of the press corps on Monday. 

While an NBC News report on Tuesday highlighted how Biden is "unhappy" about the White House doing a clean up campaign about his remarks. "The so-called clean-up campaign, he has told advisers, undermines him and smothers the authenticity that fueled his rise. Worse, it feeds a Republican talking point that he’s not fully in command," the report mentions.

And yet that same day, as Leah covered on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre had to clean up after Biden. "He supports a ban on sales of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and expanded background checks to keep guns out of dangerous hands," Jean-Pierre told Fox News' Peter Doocy. "He does not support a ban on the sale of all handguns."

When it comes to legislation that may come up for a vote, CNBC reported on Tuesday that "House Democrats look to pass gun control legislation by early June." They're looking to combine eight different bills into one. From Thomas Franck's piece:

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., has called committee lawmakers back from a break to mark up gun legislation that combines eight separate bills. Nadler intends to bring a suite of new gun safety laws to the House floor “as soon as possible,” a spokesman said, in light of shootings in Texas and New York state.

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The combined legislation would introduce a range of regulations on the sale or use of firearms and associated equipment.

The Raise the Age Act would lift the purchasing age for semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21, while the Keep Americans Safe Act would outlaw the import, sale, manufacture, transfer or possession of a large-capacity magazine.

Ethan’s Law would create new requirements for storing guns at homes, especially those with children, and provide tax credits for secure storage devices.

While it’s unclear when the omnibus will arrive on the House floor, Nadler’s move to reconvene the committee early signals that House leadership wants to vote on the legislation soon after lawmakers return from break next week, while Democrats still have momentum behind them.

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As Robert Costa covered for CBS News on Wednesday morning, talks have resumed, particularly when it comes to "red flag" laws. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has called for Republican senators to work with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) when it comes to legislation that can pass with bipartisan support. 

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