McCarthy Backs Piecemeal Gun-Control Strategy in Congress

A ban on high-capacity gun magazines has a good chance of passing the Republican-led U.S. House if it’s offered as a stand-alone bill, said Representative Carolyn McCarthy, a New York Democrat.

With opposition in Congress to an assault-weapons ban, advancing a broad package of firearms restrictions could imperil President Barack Obama’s initiative to curb gun violence, McCarthy said today at a Bloomberg Government breakfast. She said a ban on the high-capacity devices that feed bullets and expanded background checks have support among lawmakers and could be approved.

Democrats initially had wanted to advance one major legislative package, including a ban on assault weapons, in the aftermath of the Dec. 14 shootings that killed 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut. Now, McCarthy says she’s “come around to thinking” a piecemeal approach is best.

“I was one that wanted a comprehensive package,” said McCarthy, whose husband was killed in a 1993 shooting on a Long Island Rail Road train. “I’m not going to derail everything.”

“There are things that I know members can vote on,” and “I have to probably hold back what I believe, that I really would like to push through,” she told a group of reporters and editors today.

House Democrats

McCarthy is among the House Democrats who last week made recommendations that mirror Obama’s gun-control proposals, including a ban on assault weapons and a 10-round limit on high-capacity feeding devices. Now, the House is looking to the Democratic-led Senate to act first.

An individual familiar with the plans of Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the chairman is set to pursue the approach McCarthy outlined by introducing separate gun-control bills, most likely at the end of March. The individual asked not to be identified because the plans haven’t been made public.

Jessica Brady, a spokeswoman for Leahy, declined to comment today.

A bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers is working on a plan to expand background checks for weapons purchases, including private sales at gun shows, McCarthy said. Several House Republicans privately have said they would support a high-capacity magazine ban, she said.

“We quietly have been working with them. They don’t want to be out there with us yet,” she said.

Even so, the group has no more than 25 lawmakers and Democrats probably need 58 Republican votes to move a bill through the House, she said.

‘A Battle’

“It will be a battle,” said McCarthy. She said that because of the shootings at the elementary school in Newtown, “this time is different.”

“If you take away the large magazines it’s not going to make any difference what kind of a gun you have because you’ll have less bullets into it,” she said. An assault-weapons ban “is more symbolic.”

A number of Republicans, including Representatives Patrick Meehan and Michael Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, have spoken publicly in support of enhanced background checks for gun purchases. Polls also show strong public backing. A Quinnipiac University poll released Feb. 7 found more than 9 in 10 Americans support universal background checks.

Even so, McCarthy said many Republicans still find it difficult to speak out in favor of new laws. Based on discussions with Republican colleagues, it appears “the subject is never brought up” in their party meetings, she said.

“It’s like it never happened,” she said. “It’s a wait-and-see game.”

Political Backlash

The Republican takeover of the U.S. House in 1994 followed by months the passage of an assault-weapons ban. The ban lapsed in 2004 and there’s been little effort to renew it amid concerns about a similar political backlash.

The political dynamics have shifted after Newtown, with more members worried about the fallout in the next election for failing to back gun restrictions, McCarthy said.

“It’s a myth” that Democrats lost the House on the gun issue, she said. This time, there are many more groups pushing for new gun laws “out there that will be ready for the next election.”

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