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Indy DC Download: Oct. 1 tragedy informs House push to pass gun control package

Humberto Sanchez
Humberto Sanchez
CongressGovernment
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Good morning, and welcome to the Indy DC Download newsletter, a weekly look at what's going on in the nation's capital as it relates to Nevada.

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The tragedy of the October 2017 Las Vegas shooting, the deadliest in the nation’s history, looms over efforts in Congress to pass gun control legislation in response to a string of recent mass shootings, including in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 elementary school pupils and two teachers dead.

The U.S. House is poised to take up a package of gun violence measures next week, including a bill introduced by Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV). Her bill would ban so-called bump stocks, the devices used by the Las Vegas shooter to mimic the fire of automatic weapons and expend 1,049 rounds in just 11 minutes.

In a statement provided by her office, Titus said her measure, the Closing the Bump Stock Loophole Act, is needed to regulate bump stocks like machine guns, which have no civilian use.

“The manufacture of new machine guns has been illegal in the United States for decades,” Titus said. “Yet bump stocks and similar devices to augment firing capacities circumnavigate the law to produce fully automatic weapons like the ones used in the 1 October mass shooting in Las Vegas.” 

Titus said her proposed bill would provide “strict regulation” under the National Firearms Act, making it illegal to manufacture, sell or possess bump stocks for civilian use. 

The Department of Justice under President Donald Trump issued a rule banning bump stocks in 2018 in response to the Las Vegas shooting. But Titus has argued for her bill rather than a regulation subject to presidential fiat. 

The 2017 shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip killed 60 people, including two who died in 2020 from injuries sustained at the scene and boosted the death toll from 58. According to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s report, nearly 900 people were injured, including more than 400 gunshot or shrapnel injury victims. 

Multiple other mass shootings have taken place since 2017: including at a Parkland, Florida, high school in 2018, where 17 died; at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in 2019, where 23 died; at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store, where 10 were killed on May 14.

Titus, Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) and Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) all signed a letter last week addressed to House Democratic leaders urging them to take up gun control legislation as soon as possible.

The office of Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) said he wants to look over any legislation that comes to the floor before weighing in on it. The congressman from Northern Nevada is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment, which his voting record reflects. Last year, he voted against the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, which would require background checks for firearm transfers between private parties. It last passed the House 227 to 203 with only eight GOP votes in favor.

Despite action in the House, the package is unlikely to pass the Senate, where the parties are split 50 to 50. Democrats would need 10 Republicans to vote with them to overcome a filibuster.

With that in mind, a handful of Senate Democrats and Republicans are trying to reach a deal on a comparatively more modest gun violence measure that stands a better chance in the upper chamber. The agreement could include language to give states incentives to pass red flag laws, which allow law enforcement or family members to petition a judge to remove firearms from someone deemed to pose a threat. Other provisions under discussion entail tweaking the background check system to account for private party sales as well as bolstering school security and mental health programs. 

The Nevada Legislature approved a red flag law in 2019, and it went into effect in 2020

House gun bills

When the issue is gun violence, Las Vegas is never far from the debate. In his speech Thursday, President Joe Biden mentioned the horrific 2017 shooting, arguing for banning assault weapons and limiting high-capacity magazines. 

“How much more carnage are we willing to accept?” Biden asked. “How many more innocent American lives must be taken before we say ‘enough’?”

Las Vegas also came up in the Judiciary Committee markup Thursday of a package of eight gun control bills, including the one put forward by Titus. The committee approved the package on a party-line 25-to-19 vote. The markup came despite the House in recess. The Senate was also out of session. Both chambers are in session next week.

“Remember, it was the Trump administration that first enacted this ban on devices that essentially convert semi-automatic weapons into machine guns and serve no purpose other than to maximize carnage as we learned when they were used in the deadly shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 people,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) chairman of the panel.

Along with Titus' bump stock ban, the package heeded Biden's request to ban high-capacity magazines.

The measure would raise the legal age to purchase semi-automatic assault rifles, like the AR-15 used in many shootings, from 18 to 21. It also would crack down on gun trafficking and straw purchasing by making them a federal crime and require ghost gun purchases to be subject to background checks. 

Ghost guns are unserialized and untraceable firearms that can be bought online and assembled at home. The Nevada Legislature enacted a law banning ghost guns last session. But part of the law was struck down by a state court that ruled some of it was unconstitutionally vague with regard to “frames or receivers,” which are the building blocks of ghost guns. The law went into effect in January and provisions generally banning unserialized firearms remain in effect. 

The federal bill also included gun storage provisions, such as establishing voluntary best practices for safe firearm storage and would provide a tax incentive to dealers for 10 percent of amounts received from the sale of secure storage devices. The measure would also establish requirements to regulate the storage of firearms on residential premises and create criminal penalties for violations. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Thursday that the House would also take up a federal red flag law as soon as next week. That bill, the Federal Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, would allow family members and law enforcement to petition federal courts requesting extreme risk protection orders to remove firearms from people believed to pose a risk to themselves or others.

House Democrats are also poised to hold a hearing soon on an assault weapons ban. Congress enacted a ban in 1994, but it expired in 2004.

Pelosi also said that the House would soon take up a bill to create an AMBER Alert-style notification during a mass shooting.

Miscellany 

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) led her Democratic colleagues on sending three letters to Senate appropriators overseeing the Small Business Administration (SBA) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) seeking access to SBA loans for nonprofit child care providers, access to SBA loans for cannabis entrepreneurs and $40 million for the USDA’s ​​Rural Business Development Grant program in the fiscal 2023 spending bill.

Rosen and seven other senators argued that the shortage of affordable child care should dictate that nonprofit providers and for-profit providers be treated equally by the SBA. 

“Ensuring that qualified nonprofit providers have equal access to SBA loans will allow providers to invest in and expand their operations, creating local jobs, and giving working families more options for quality, affordable child care so they do not have to choose between their careers and supporting their families,” the letter said.

The letter notes that for-profit providers have access to more extensive and flexible SBA loan programs for up to $5 million. The loans can be used for real estate purchases to increase child care capacity, construction and remodeling to upgrade and expand facilities, and other expenses critical to maintaining and expanding high-quality child care operations. 

But nonprofit providers are limited to only the SBA microloan program, which is capped at $50,000, and the funds cannot be used to purchase real estate or for existing operational debts.

On cannabis, Rosen asked appropriators to include language in the fiscal 2023 budget bill prohibiting SBA from denying loan applications for certain SBA products to legally operating cannabis small businesses in states that have legalized its sale and use. These products include entrepreneurial development programs. 

Cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, which has made it difficult for the industry to access banking services and the SBA “can fill the gaps left by the private banking sector,” Rosen said. 

As for rural businesses, Rosen and 12 other Senate Democrats argued that  $40 million is needed to help them recover from the pandemic.

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

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