NJ Democrats slam McConnell for inaction on gun safety
Sen. Bob Menendez and Rep. Andy Kim, D-3 of Bordentown Township, hosted separate events with anti-gun violence advocates in North and South Jersey on Wednesday to call on the Republican leader to allow the GOP-controlled Senate to vote on legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled House to expand background checks for gun purchases.
WILLINGBORO — Members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his refusal to take up gun violence legislation in advance of their return to Washington after a long summer recess marked by several mass shootings.
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and Rep. Andy Kim, D-3 of Bordentown Township, hosted separate events with anti-gun violence advocates in North and South Jersey on Wednesday to call on the Republican leader to allow the GOP-controlled Senate to vote on legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled House to expand background checks for gun purchases.
McConnell said earlier this week he’s waiting for President Donald Trump and the White House to weigh in on a legislative response to the spate of recent mass shootings, including last weekend’s shooting in West Texas that left at least seven dead.
Kim accused the Kentucky Republican of “abdicating leadership” during a Wednesday round table talk with several members of the anti-gun violence group Moms Demand Action.
“What’s so frustrating to me, there’s almost become this expectation that nothing is going to change in D.C. That’s what is so frustrating. We need to break that cycle,” he told the advocates before pointing to McConnell. “This is a massive challenge we’re facing as a country and if we have leadership, especially Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Senate who controls the legislative agenda, saying ‘There’s not much we can do.’ What kind of message does that send our country? What kind of message does that send the world?”
Menendez also slammed Trump and McConnell during a rally with advocates in Montclair with fellow Democrat Rep. Mikie Sherrill.
“Again and again we have been heartbroken by mass shootings ... We have been outraged by the gun lobby’s death grip on so many of our leaders, including the president of the United States,” Menendez said, adding that that the Senate would approve the background checks bill if McConnell allows it to be voted on.
“I’m tired of hearing we have to wait for the president to tell him what he’s willing to sign. That’s not the way the constitution of the United States was made. There are checks and balances. Let’s send a bill to the president and see if he’ll sign it or not, then we’ll know who stands for what,” he added.
The background check legislation cited by Kim and Menenedez is expected to be the focus of a new debate over gun safety measures that is developing in the wake of the recent shootings, but it is not the only gun measure being discussed.
During Kim’s round table, which was held in Willingboro, advocates said Congress should create a federal “red flag” law allowing weapons to be removed from people determined to pose an imminent danger and another allowing gun owners to be held liable for shootings involving minors who access weapons that were improperly stored.
They also suggested that Congress should approve raising the minimum age to purchase semi-automatic rifles to 21, noting that the AR-15 rifle used in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting was legally purchased.
“We know that teenagers between the ages of 18 and 20 are four times as likely to be involved in homicides as people over the age of 21. It’s a young age; it’s a volatile time so it’s our opinion it makes sense to raise that age limit,” said Shani Nuckols, a Moms Demand Action leader from Haddonfield, Camden County.
Advocates at Menendez’s event also suggested that Congress follow New Jersey’s lead and approve a ban on high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, arguing that they allow shooters to inflict mass casualties in a short amount of time.
Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law New Jersey’s 10-round limit last summer, and Menendez has sponsored legislation that would prohibit the transfer, importation, or possession of gun magazines able to hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
Reps. Ted Deutch of Florida, who represents Parkland; Diana DeGette, who represents Columbine in Colorado, and Dina Titus, who represents Las Vegas in Nevada, have introduced companion legislation in the House.
Theresa Turner, a Moms Demand Action advocate from Monmouth County, said New Jersey has set an example on gun safety for other states and Congress to follow with its red flag law, which took effect last Sunday, and its magazine limit.
“It’s all there. The federal government could just take New Jersey’s laws and plug them in,” she told Kim.
The congressman also heard from two advocates whose family members were killed in shootings, including Chesterfield’s Glenda Torres-Scott, whose 23-year-old son was killed by a stray bullet during a 2012 shooting in Trenton.
“As a parent you can’t expect your child to be taken away in such a senseless way. I with my life on edge everyday,” she said. “I do this because people need to see the faces of the ones who are left behind. It’s important for us to remember the ones we lost everyday and to protect the ones we have.”
Kim promised to keep working for solutions, including the ones proposed by the advocates.
“These are the types of sensible steps that I know the vast majority of Americans agree with and places where we need to be able to get the leadership in Washington to be able to move on forward,” he said. “I understand we live in a time of divided government and these are controversial issues. But we also understand that universal background checks are not a controversial issue for a lot of people.”