Democrats brought gun violence back to the top of Congress’ policy agenda by holding a hearing on Wednesday – the first of its kind in nearly a decade – on legislation to expand background checks for firearm purchases.
But while Democrats seized their newfound bully pulpit to spotlight victims of mass shootings and argue for “common-sense” gun legislation, Republicans turned to old arguments to justify continuing to dismiss legislative responses to gun violence.
In one notable case, they trotted out a new reason to resist Democratic-authored bills.
At the House Judiciary Committee hearing, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a reliable defender of gun rights and a close ally of President Donald Trump, opened his remarks by listing instances of people who were hurt or killed by “illegal aliens” using firearms.
The background check bill, Gaetz argued, would not have prevented that violence. “But a wall, a barrier on our southern border, may have,” the congressman said to groans and boos from the room. “If we cared about safer streets, we’d build the wall and secure the border.”
Gaetz’s point was a newer, Trumpier twist on of the GOP’s long-established argument that background check efforts would do little to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and violent people, and only serve to infringe on the constitutional rights on law-abiding citizens.
But the Florida Republican was not done there. Gaetz also attempted to kick out Manuel Oliver, the father of a Parkland shooting victim, from the hearing, claiming that Oliver had interrupted him multiple times during his allotted time to speak.
“Is there a process in the committee whereby if the very same people are repeatedly interrupting the time of the members, that those people will be asked to depart the committee?” Gaetz said, raising his voice and pointing to Oliver—whose son, Joaquin, was one of the 17 that died at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last year.
It is unclear from the video if Oliver actually interrupted Gaetz , but he was seen pointing and saying something in response to Gaetz’s request. The representative then continued to push for Oliver's removal.
“I’d observe three interruptions of my time by the same individual and that the chair is not utilizing its discretion to remove that individual,” he said.
Later on Wednesday, Oliver denied interrupting Gaetz, telling The Daily Beast he was demanding “him to remember [their] love ones.”
“The only relevant interruption here is the one that interrupted Joaquin Oliver and another 40k/year victims lives because of gun violence. I didn’t say anything…” Oliver wrote. “FYI, while I was demanding that, I was thinking ‘Fuck You!’”
That episode aside, the continued resistance among Republican lawmakers to gun control comes as Democrats find themselves in a position to advance their bills out of the House – and, possibly, with some Republican support. The background check bill at the center of the Wednesday hearing is co-sponsored by five Democrats but also five Republicans.
Polling shows that vast majorities of the American public support expanding background checks, something Democrats returned to often.
Such public support for gun control is partly why the incoming Democratic majority in the House has moved quickly to make it such a central part of their legislative agenda. The extent to which the issue has energized the party was apparent in the hearing room audience, which was filled with gun control activists affiliated with the March For Our Lives Movement that grew after the mass shooting at Parkland in 2017.