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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Analysis: Senate likely to reject gun control – while high court might expand gun rights | Local News

WASHINGTON – With the nation reeling from the slaughter of 19 fourth-graders and two teachers in Texas only 10 days after a racist massacre claimed 10 lives in Buffalo, the U.S. Senate seems poised this week to do what it often does:

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court may be poised to make it even easier for Americans to carry guns.

That’s the state of play in the nation’s capital amid this especially deadly month in America. Split 50-50 between the parties and saddled with a self-imposed rule that requires a majority of 60 votes to pass anything substantial, the Senate is likely to fail in its attempts to pass gun control measures and a bill aimed to combat domestic terrorism.

Yet by the end of next month, the Supreme Court could very well overturn a 108-year-old New York State law that requires that people show “proper cause” before being allowed to carry a concealed handgun. 

Here’s a closer look at the legislation that likely will have little traction, as well as the Supreme Court case that could end up expanding the right to keep and bear arms in the nation with by far the highest rate of firearm homicides of any high-income country.

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“The governor’s Domestic Terrorism Task Force has not met once since its creation two years ago. Its failure to produce a crucial report on the matter is a dereliction and a direct failure by the governor’s administration,” Assemblyman Mike Reilly, a Staten Island Republican, said on Twitter.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said Wednesday that gun control measures may be added to the domestic terrorism bill scheduled to come to the floor Thursday if if Republicans vote to allow debate on that measure.

“We are going to vote on gun legislation,” Schumer, a New York Democrat, said. “The American people are tired of moments of silence, tired of the kind words offering thoughts and prayers.”

It is unclear what gun control measures the Senate will actually take up – although it does have two bills passed by the House last year that it could consider. One would expand background checks to cover guns purchased online or at gun shows, and the other would lengthen the waiting period during which the FBI investigates would-be gun owners flagged by the background check system.

While a Morning Consult/Politico poll last year showed that 84% of voters favor universal background checks, last year’s House votes on those bills illustrate why they are likely doomed in a 50-50 Senate. The House votes were largely split along party lines. Reps. Chris Jacobs, Tom Reed, Claudia Tenney and Lee Zeldin – all New York Republicans – voted no.

In the Senate on Tuesday, Republicans continued to follow the party line. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, mourned the deaths in Texas, but never even mentioned gun control legislation.

And Sen. Tommy Tuberville, an Alabama Republican, indicated to reporters that he had no interest in changing the status quo.

“We’ve had guns forever and we’re going to continue to have guns,” he said.

The plan includes establishing a new Office of Counterterrorism within the state’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services focused on domestic terrorism.

The domestic terrorism bill

The same partisan divide that bedevils gun control legislation also haunts the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act.

The measure would set up new units at the FBI, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to track domestic terror threats. The measure would also require biennial reports on the threats posed by white supremacists and other domestic groups that could launch terror attacks.

Like universal background checks, such measures are popular. A Morning Consult/Politico poll released this week found that 74% of voters wanted the FBI, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to work together to combat domestic terror threats.

And to Democrats such as Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, the bill is just common sense.

“We have to pass the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act,” said Gillibrand, a New York Democrat. “This bill, which I urge all my colleagues to support tomorrow, would ensure that the Department of Justice, FBI and the Department of Homeland Security work together to better track and respond to this growing threat.”

But Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, sees the bill as an intrusion on law-abiding Americans.

“I’m completely opposed to this idea that we would be giving the federal government and federal law enforcement power and authority to surveil Americans,”  Hawley told the Hill newspaper last week.

And unless at least 10 Republicans support the domestic terrorism bill, it, too, is likely to die via filibuster.

Gov. Kathy Hochul called for new efforts to intercept the flow of illegal guns into New York State, require microstamping on some ammunition and raise the age for purchasing military-style rifles to 21.

With the Senate unlikely to act, the next major action in Washington on guns is likely to come when the Supreme Court issues its ruling in a case called New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. At stake are laws in New York and potentially six other states that require people to prove that they need to carry a gun in public before they’re allowed to do so.

The New York gun owners who filed the case are asking the high court to expand its definition of the right to keep and bear arms – which, the justices ruled in 2008, allows people to keep guns in their home.

But gun control advocates like Gov. Kathy Hochul argue that states need to limit who gets to carry guns in public.

“Do not overturn a sensible public safety law that we want for our residents,” she said Wednesday.

Yet at an argument last November, the conservative justices that make up the high court majority seemed likely to do just that. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said there’s probably no good reason to ask people to explain why they need a gun license before issuing them one.

“You don’t have to say, when you’re looking for a permit to speak on a street corner or whatever, that, you know, your speech is particularly important,” he said. “So why do you have to show in this case, convince somebody that you’re entitled to exercise your Second Amendment right?”

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