Gun con­trol risks los­ing mo­men­tum as im­peach­ment fever rises

The Saline Courier - - COMICS - As­so­ci­ated Press

LAS VE­GAS — Af­ter backto-back mass shoot­ings in Ohio and Texas this sum­mer, gun con­trol burst back on the scene as a ma­jor po­lit­i­cal is­sue for Democrats. Now it risks tak­ing a back seat as im­peach­ment fever over­takes Wash­ing­ton.

Gun con­trol ad­vo­cates are de­ter­mined to pre­vent that from hap­pen­ing.

Ten White House hope­fuls will be in Las Ve­gas for a fo­rum on gun pol­icy on Wed­nes­day, al­most two years to the day af­ter a gun­man killed 58 peo­ple at a coun­try mu­sic fes­ti­val on the Las Ve­gas Strip in the dead­li­est mass shoot­ing in mod­ern Amer­i­can his­tory. The event is be­ing hosted by MSNBC, March for Our Lives and Gif­fords, the ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion set up by for­mer Ari­zona con­gress­woman Gabby Gif­fords, who was shot and gravely wounded dur­ing a con­stituent meet­ing in 2011.

The fo­rum is an ef­fort to keep gun vi­o­lence front and cen­ter of the de­bate and gives 2020 pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates a chance to show­case their plans to com­bat the epi­demic. Polls show that a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans fa­vor stricter gun laws, while even more sup­port spe­cific pro­pos­als like univer­sal back­ground checks. But ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and law­mak­ers have halted over back­ground checks leg­is­la­tion, an ef­fort that faced long odds even be­fore the im­peach­ment in­quiry be­gan.

“Im­peach­ment sucks ev­ery­thing out of the room. Cer­tainly it’s the fo­cus of Trump’s at­ten­tion,” said

Jack Citrin, a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­ni­aberke­ley. “If you need to reach some kind of bi­par­ti­san agree­ment and one party is de­ter­mined to throw the pres­i­dent out of of­fice, rightly or wrongly, it’s a lit­tle hard to see how that builds the kind of good­will that’s nec­es­sary on this or any other is­sue.”

Ariel Hobbs, a 21-year-old stu­dent or­ga­nizer with March for Our Lives in Hous­ton, said her group wants “to hear from the can­di­dates that they are tak­ing this se­ri­ously and they un­der­stand they can no longer ig­nore Amer­ica’s gun vi­o­lence epi­demic.” She doesn’t think the im­peach­ment in­quiry is a rea­son for law­mak­ers to stop their push for a bi­par­ti­san so­lu­tion.

The 10 can­di­dates slated to par­tic­i­pate in the fo­rum are for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den; New Jer­sey Sen. Cory Booker; South Bend, In­di­ana, Mayor Pete But­tigieg; for­mer Obama Hous­ing Sec­re­tary Julián Cas­tro; Cal­i­for­nia Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris; Min­nesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; for­mer Texas Rep. Beto O’rourke; Ver­mont Sen. Bernie San­ders; Mas­sachusetts Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren; and busi­ness­man Pri­vate and Semi Pri­vate Rooms Avail­able An­drew Yang.

O’rourke re­cast his cam­paign around gun con­trol af­ter the Au­gust shoot­ing in his home­town of El Paso, Texas, where a gun­man tar­get­ing His­pan­ics killed 22 peo­ple. O’rourke even vowed to ban as­sault weapons, say­ing at a de­bate in Hous­ton in Septem­ber, “Hell, yes, we’re gonna take your AR-15, your AK-47, and we’re not go­ing to al­low it to be used against your fel­low Amer­i­cans any­more.”

One ex­pert said he doesn’t see a down­side for O’rourke or any of his fel­low pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates to talk about im­peach­ment along­side other is­sues like gun con­trol.

“If (O’rourke) is point­ing out that be­cause of im­peach­ment, the pres­i­dent has de­cided not to work at all on an is­sue that in­volves peo­ple’s lives, he could make the ar­gu­ment if he wanted that this is it­self an im­peach­able of­fense,” said Michael Green, a his­tory pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Las Ve­gas-ne­vada fo­cused on state and na­tional pol­i­tics. “If you are try­ing to get your base, your base prob­a­bly does not mind the idea of im­peach­ment.”

An­other chal­lenge for can­di­dates is to dis­tin­guish them­selves on the is­sue of guns. O’rourke stands out with this call for a manda­tory fed­eral buy­back pro­gram for mil­i­tary-style weapons used in many mass shoot­ings.

That goes be­yond most other Demo­cratic can­di­dates who have fo­cused their pro­pos­als around ex­panded back­ground checks and ban­ning the fu­ture man­u­fac­ture and sales of cer­tain high-pow­ered weapons — but not mak­ing it il­le­gal to pos­sess those al­ready in the mar­ket.

Ahead of the de­bate, Bi­den re­leased a de­tailed gun pol­icy plan em­pha­siz­ing his role as a lead­ing sen­a­tor in adopt­ing a back­ground law in 1993 and a ban on cer­tain semi-au­to­matic weapons as part of a sweep­ing 1994 crime law. That ban ex­pired af­ter 10 years.

Be­sides re­new­ing that ban and in­clud­ing high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines, Bi­den’s pro­pos­als in­clude an out­right ban on on­line sales of guns and am­mu­ni­tion, along with a vol­un­tary buy­back pro­gram for the mil­i­tary-style guns. Bi­den doesn’t of­fer a price tag for his vol­un­tary buy­back pro­posal but pro­poses a $900 mil­lion, eight-year grant pro­gram for ev­i­dence-based in­ter­ven­tion pro­grams in 40 cities with high homi­cide rates. The idea re­flects a point Bi­den and some other can­di­dates make of­ten when cam­paign­ing: Mass shoot­ings mak­ing head­lines ac­count for only a small frac­tion of U.S. gun deaths.

Demo­cratic Sen. Chris Mur­phy of Con­necti­cut has been lead­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions with the White House on a back­ground checks deal and will at­tend the fo­rum. The con­ver­sa­tions have gone silent in the past two weeks, but he’s told

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