The Nancy Pelosi-led House of Representatives passed gun control measures H.R. 8 and H.R. 1112 largely along party lines this week. However, a surprise procedural move by a Republican prior to the passage of H.R. 8 underscored the deep divisions in the Democratic Party along with the depth of the leadership’s deep disdain for gun owners. Moreover, the procedural wrangling around the bill further revealed that gun control efforts are not about confronting criminal conduct involving firearms, but rather about burdening gun owners.
In passing H.R. 8, the House voted to burden law-abiding gun owners by criminalizing the private transfer of firearms, even for temporary transfers and those among friends and extended family. The legislation targets the conduct of law-abiding gun owners, as Department of Justice polling of state and federal inmates shows that a plurality of criminals get their guns from the black market (not including private sales or gun shows).
Just prior to the vote on H.R. 8, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) made a motion to recommit the legislation to amend it to include a provision that would require the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if an illegal alien attempts to purchase a firearm. Under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(5), it is already a felony for an illegal alien to possess or receive a firearm.
The vote and surrounding furor is instructive in understanding the legislative and political priorities of the Democratic House leadership.
This amendment was aimed at alerting law enforcement to felony conduct among a group championed by Democratic leadership rather than imposing new burdens on law-abiding gun owners, and as such Democratic House leadership vigorously opposed it. Attuned to the terrible optics of voting to attack law-abiding gun owners under the guise of controlling crime while simultaneously appearing to condone obvious felonious conduct brought to the direct attention of the federal government, 26 Democrats defied their leadership and voted in favor of the amendment. The amendment passed 220-209 and subsequently H.R. 8 passed 240-190.
According to reports, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was upset after the successful Republican procedure, targeting Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) with her ire. A reporter for The Hill described the scene, writing,
Wednesday's drama played out as allied gun control activists from Moms Demand Action and the Brady Campaign sat above in the visitors’ galleries to watch the vote on one of their top priorities…
Pelosi approached Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) with the suggestion that the loss of 26 Democrats on what is typically an easy party-line vote was his responsibility. The confrontation, which took place before a group of members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), angered members of the group, of which Clyburn is a long-standing part.
A Washington Post reporter described Pelosi as “clearly frustrated” after failing to stop the ICE amendment. The paper also described the aftermath of the surprise vote by noting,
finger-pointing began almost immediately in a lengthy floor conference that included the top three Democratic leaders: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (S.C.).
Self-described Democratic Socialist and staunch enemy of ICE Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) offered the most outspoken criticism of her Democratic colleagues that voted for the ICE amendment. In a Washington Post article titled, “House Democrats explode in recriminations as liberals lash out at moderates,” Ocasio-Cortez spokesman Corbin Trent was quoted as saying that the freshman congresswoman told her colleagues that those that voted for the amendment “are putting themselves on a list.” Despite claiming that the ICE amendment gave her pause, in the end Ocasio-Cortez’s eagerness to attack gun owners overcame her advocacy for illegal aliens, as she voted to pass the amended H.R. 8.
The message sent by the combination of votes on H.R. 8., and segments of the Democratic caucus’s reaction to them, is clear. Democratic House Leadership believes it is more important to protect illegal aliens from the potential consequences of their felonious conduct than to protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners.