Democrats are vowing to push through domestic terrorism legislation to improve intelligence sharing and coordination between law enforcement agencies following the mass shooting in Buffalo — despite growing Republican opposition that could scuttle even those modest efforts.
On Sunday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California described the events in western New York as “domestic terrorism,” echoing the comments of many others in her party who see the massacre as an avoidable, catastrophic convergence of racist extremism and easy access to guns capable of inflicting mass casualties.
In response to the killings, the House would soon move to take up legislation that would “strengthen efforts to combat domestic terrorism,” she said in a statement.
Ms. Pelosi offered no specifics. But in April, Democrats on the House Judiciary passed a bill that would create permanent offices within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and FBI “to monitor, investigate and prosecute cases of domestic terrorism.” The proposal would also increase training of local police forces to detect, deter and investigate homegrown terrorism.
A nearly identical bill passed the House on a voice vote, without opposition, a year ago. This year, the measure passed over the objection of all 17 committee Republicans who argued that the measure could be misused to initiate investigations against conservatives for exercising their free speech rights.
The bill is likely to face an even steeper path in the evenly divided Senate, where 60 votes are needed necessary to pass legislation.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat who chairs the committee, said “Buffalo is a clarion call,” in a email. “The Republicans feel they owe something to the white nationalist, extremist, farthest right fringes of their party,” he added.
The domestic terrorism bill sponsored by Mr. Nadler is a much weaker version of a bill Democrats introduced in 2019, which would have created a new class of criminal domestic terrorism offenses to aid prosecutors in putting together cases against extremists.
That proposal drew fierce opposition from Republicans, and from the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued that the bill would have harmed communities color by “unnecessarily” expanding “law enforcement authorities to target and discriminate against the very communities Congress is seeking to protect.”
Democrats’ prospects of getting some kind of domestic terrorism bill, ahead of the 2020 midterm elections — however slim — are far greater than advancing their gun control agenda, which includes passing universal background checks and limiting access to the kind of semiautomatic weapons of the type used by the Buffalo suspect.
“In the wake of this Buffalo shooting, it may be that we have to put a vote up in the Senate or in the House to show the American people where folks stand,” said Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, a gun control proponent, speaking on MSNBC on Sunday.
Democrats have already forced two failed votes in the Senate — one earlier this year on voting rights and one Wednesday to codify abortion rights.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican who is not seeking reelection, proposed raising the age from purchasing long guns, now 18 in most states, to 21, the threshold for buying a handgun.
“Can we all at least agree we should raise the age to 21 for ARs”? he asked on Twitter, referring to AR-15s, the catchall name for semiautomatic rifles.
Even in rare instances there is bipartisan agreement to address an issue, Democrats have had to drop some restrictions on who can purchase guns.
In March, Congress renewed the Violence Against Women Act, a law designed to combat stalking, domestic violence and sexual assault, after Democrats agreed to a ditch a provision that would have prevented any dating partner, not just spouses, who had been convicted of domestic violence from owning a gun.