DENVER – Congressional leaders added a new measure, the Fix NICS gun legislation, into their $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill Wednesday. The bill, which focuses on tightening the process of background checks preceding gun sales, is one that U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner has been mum on after voicing concerns about the measure more than a week ago.
Many lawmakers and the White House urged Congress to pass the Fix NICS bill, which is sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn, D-Texas, and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., after the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
The measure has 76 cosponsors aside from Cornyn in the Senate, including Colorado’s Michael Bennet, but Gardner has not signed on to cosponsor the measure, which was first introduced in November after the shooting at a Texas church that killed 26 people.
The measure aims to close up loopholes in the gun purchasing system like the one that allowed the Texas shooter to buy guns despite having been convicted of domestic violence. His criminal information was never entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
The version put into the omnibus bill would give states more money to help them comply with the background check system and institute penalties for those who don’t adhere to the rules. Aides told the Associated Press the measure was included during a last-minute meeting between leadership from both parties Wednesday morning.
Many Senate bills often pass by unanimous consent so they don’t have to undergo dozens of hours of hearings and markups before a possible roll call vote. As such, some wondered how a bill that has a veto-proof number of cosponsors in the Senate was held up from being pushed through via unanimous consent, and whether the NRA was behind the hold. Fortune reported last month, citing the Center for Responsive Politics and the New York Times, that Gardner and his associated committees have received about $3.8 million from the NRA during his time in Congress.
ThinkProgress reported that Gardner was behind the hold, but did not cite any sources.
On CBS’s Face the Nation on March 11, Gardner was asked about the Fix NICS bill and said there were “some” senators talking about “due process issues in the bill and legislation.”
“I’ve talked to Sen. Cornyn and I hope that Sen. Cornyn will realize that we need to work this due process matter out. This isn’t an issue of whether you like this or not, it’s a question of constitutional rights and protecting the people of this country, protecting them from harm,” he said.
Anchor Margaret Brennan interrupted Gardner, asking, “So, you are blocking the bill for now?” He continued to speak about working out any “constitutional issues,” to which Brennan asked him to clarify if he was blocking the bill.
“This bill can come to the floor and we will continue to work through an amendment process and I hope that we can fix those amendments,” Gardner replied. “I think if we can have an amendment process that works to fix due process concerns, real constitutional issues, then I hope that’s something that we can do.”
Denver7 asked Gardner repeatedly over the past week whether he was indeed holding up the bill. Our news partners at The Denver Post asked as well, but did not receive a response.
Tuesday evening, when asked about the prospects of Fix NICS being put into the omnibus bill, Gardner’s spokesman, Casey Contres, referred Denver7 back to Gardner’s Face the Nation comments, adding that, “Gardner supports this bill coming to the floor for a robust and open debate.”
Cornyn’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the hold on the senator’s standalone bill. Other Senate offices contacted declined to comment.
Some Democrats say the Fix NICS measure is just a small first step to addressing the broader issue of guns America, while some conservatives in the House balked at the inclusion of the measure in the spending bill, saying Ryan and leadership had initially committed to not including the measure.
Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., spoke on the Senate floor about gun legislation Wednesday as well. He called on gun groups to “stop using scare tactics to try and convince law-abiding gun owners that the federal government is hell-bent on taking their guns away.”
“That is simply not going to happen and everyone knows it,” Jones said.
Both chambers of Congress will have to vote on the bill before a Friday midnight shutdown deadline.