House Democrats unveil gun control proposals

Washington -- House Democrats unveiled an ambitious package of gun control proposals Thursday that closely follow President Obama's recommendations.

But the move is largely a political overreach.

At a press conference in Leesburg, Va., where House Democrats are on retreat, party leaders and senior members of a gun-control task force issued more than a dozen recommendations that included the reinstatement of a federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazine cartridges and expanding FBI background checks to all gun purchasers.

Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., called the proposals "common sense" ideas "consistent with the Constitution."

The task force, formed by Democratic leaders after the mass shooting in Newtown, includes Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, who is in her first term representing the district, which includes Newtown. The task force proposed strengthening the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, to make sure federal and state agencies are reporting all information that's required.

Other recommendations include:

  • Tougher prosecution of felons who try to buy guns. Federal laws prohibits these purchases.
  • Tougher federal penalties for gun trafficking and "straw purchases," or buying a gun for someone who is prohibited by law to own one.
  • Restoring funding to the Centers for Disease Control so the agency can study the causes of gun violence.
  • Improving access to mental health services and increasing funding for mental health programs.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the proposals will be crafted into legislation. But after that, their future is unclear.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he will wait to see what gun-control proposals are approved by the Senate before he takes action on the issue in the House.

And it's not certain the Democratic-controlled Senate will approve all or any of the House Democrats' recommendations. Most endangered is the proposal for the reinstatement of an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.

Pelosi said the task force wanted to include all proposals that could possibly reduce gun violence.

"I think we have to have the boldest possible package... rather than throwing in the towel on an assault weapons ban," Pelosi said.

The National Rifle Association and its allies in Congress are strongly pushing back against gun-control proposals promoted by President Obama and congressional Democrats, especially the assault weapons ban.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., on Thursday released a study, based largely on a 2011 report by the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center, that said the NRA's "extremism" is fueled by its relationship with the firearms industry.

The report says firearm companies donate millions of dollars to the NRA each year accounting for 74 percent of its corporate contributions.

A local company, Southport-based Sturm, Ruger & Co., gave the NRA nearly $1.3 million last year -- $1 for every gun the company sold between the NRA's 2011 and 2012 annual meetings.

"The NRA receives million of dollars from all aspects of the firearms industry and in turn stokes fear about the government confiscating guns from law abiding citizens," Murphy's report said. "By heightening the misplaced fears of gun owners, the NRA is able to drive higher sales of guns and accessories..."