WASHINGTON, D.C. – Frustrated Democrats again lambasted Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell Thursday as they marked a year of Senate inaction since the House passed landmark gun control legislation.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged that Democrats have been here before — complaining about McConnell's “legislative graveyard" — but she said Democrats were energized to “accelerate a drumbeat” on calls for McConnell to allow a Senate vote on a House-passed bill to expand background checks for gun purchases.
McConnell's name came up repeatedly at a raucous House ceremony marking the one-year anniversary of the House bill. Speaking a day after a gunman killed five people at a Milwaukee brewery, Pelosi said McConnell was giving new meaning to his self-described nickname as the “grim reaper” of Democratic legislation.
“It's very sad that the Grim Reaper has decided that more people will die because he is the Grim Reaper,'' Pelosi said. ”One hundred people a day die from gun violence. Not all of them could be saved by this legislation, but many could.''
More than 39,000 people were killed by firearms in 2018, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a number that advocates said translates into more than 100 gun-related deaths per day. More than 60 percent of gun deaths are by suicide, with a small number of accidental deaths.
The death toll includes thousands of children under 18 killed by firearms, a number Pelosi called haunting.
Addressing McConnell directly, Pelosi asked: “Why do think your political survival is more important than the survival of our children? Give us a vote.’’
Her words were met by thunderous applause from lawmakers, advocates and survivors of gun violence gathered in an ornate room outside the House chamber.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer also drew applause when he scolded President Donald Trump for offering mere condolences after the country's latest mass shooting. An employee at one of the nation's largest breweries gunned down five co-workers in Milwaukee Wednesday before killing himself.
“Enough words!” Schumer shouted. “How about a little action” on gun control?
Under McConnell's leadership, the Senate has taken up “zero” gun-related legislation since the House passed the background checks bill last February, Schumer said. He and others made circles with their fingers and held them up to demonstrate the Senate's inaction.
A spokesman for McConnell declined to comment. In the past, McConnell has dismissed Democrats' call for gun-control legislation as “theatrics.”
McConnell refuses to allow a vote on the background checks bill because he says it's not clear the Senate would be able to pass the legislation or that Trump would sign it into law.
For Democratic leaders, "It's all about trying to scare people," McConnell said in September after a similar Democratic news conference.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said McConnell and other Republicans should get used to the idea of Democrats speaking up about gun safety.
“We're building a political movement, and it is coming to get every single Republican who votes against this” bill on background checks, he said.
“Either you are with 90% of the American people (who support expanded background checks) or you are with the NRA,'' Murphy said, referring the National Rifle Association, the gun industry's top lobbying group.
If McConnell continues "to allow the NRA to be in charge of the Senate ... he is going to be the minority leader very soon,'' Murphy said.
"If that,'' a supporter yelled. McConnell faces a well-funded challenge from Democrat Amy McGrath in Kentucky.
Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., also focused on McConnell, citing statistics from the nonpartisan Gun Violence Archive that 232 Kentucky residents were killed by gun violence in the year since the House approved the background checks bill.
"We are here today because Americans are dying, and more die every day because Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans lack the spine to stand up to the NRA,'' Kelly said.
Kelly, who represents Chicago, said her state and city have strong gun safety laws, but neighboring states do not.
"We need universal background checks legislation to stop Indiana and Wisconsin guns from killing kids in Chicago,'' she said, citing statistics that more than half the guns used in crimes in Chicago come from out of state.
After back-to-back mass shootings in Ohio and Texas last summer, Trump embraced calls for “strong background checks” — only to backpedal.
Ideas the administration has considered include so-called red-flag legislation to allow officials to take away guns from people believed to be dangers to themselves or others and quicker imposition of the death penalty for mass shooters.
Little progress has been made, and gun control supporters do not expect major legislation to emerge before the presidential election.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump has embraced the mantle of gun rights champion, repeatedly warning supporters at his rallies that Democrats “will take your guns away.” Last month, he labeled Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam a “whack job” as the Democratic governor moves to tighten gun laws following a mass shooting in Virginia Beach.