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U.S. Democrats increase pressure on Trump, Republicans with new gun bills

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By Reuters
U.S. Democrats increase pressure on Trump, Republicans with new gun bills

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Democrats, looking to heighten their profile on the hot-button issue of gun control, prepared to move forward on Tuesday with new measures to curb gun violence, while President Donald Trump also planned to huddle with Republican leaders.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives Judiciary Committee was expected to recommend three pieces of gun legislation for a full House vote, more than a month after gun safety surged back to the forefront of U.S. public debate in the wake of back-to-back mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.

The bills are part of a coordinated strategy between House and Senate Democrats to put pressure on Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to allow a vote on gun-related bills including background check legislation that passed the House in February.

So-called red flag legislation that would allow courts and law enforcement officials to remove guns from people deemed a risk to communities is among the bills that the House Judiciary Committee will consider at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT). The panel is also due to take up a measure that would ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and extend an existing prohibition against gun ownership for those convicted of hate crimes, from the felony to the misdemeanour level.

Trump and Republican leaders from the House and Senate were due to meet at 4 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT) at the White House. They were expected to discuss gun legislation among other matters, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Republicans have shown little sign of movement on the issue since lawmakers returned to Washington from a recess on Monday. McConnell opened the Senate’s autumn work session without mentioning gun legislation, while Trump stressed the need to protect gun owner rights.

“I strongly urge my Republican colleagues to prevail on the president to support universal background checks,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday.

“Leader McConnell has said he will bring a bill to the floor if it has the president’s support. That means there is a truly historic opportunity for President Trump to lead his party toward sensible gun safety laws that in the past Republicans in obeisance to the NRA have refused to support for decades,” he said, in a reference to the National Rifle Association.

With a majority of voters favouring background check legislation, Democrats are hoping to underscore the sharp differences between them and Republicans at a time when, according to a new Gallup poll, nearly half of Americans worry that they or a family member could become victims of a mass shooting.

“This is a representative democracy and the people want it, and we have to perform our offices on the assumption – whether it is true or not – that everyone else in our political system will do their jobs,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, a House Judiciary Democrat.

Staff-level discussions between Congress and the White House during the August break focused on “red flag” legislation and proposals to close loops in current background checks that exempt internet sales and private gun sales, including those that take place at gun shows.

House Democrats, who are also nearing a majority of support for an assault weapons ban, expect the bills to clear the committee and the full House.

Some were stubbornly optimistic that the Republican-controlled Senate might eventually take them up.

“I choose to be positive that we’re going to listen to the American people at some point and do something,” Representative Debbie Dingell said.

(Reporting by David Morgan; additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Lisa Lambert; editing by Grant McCool)