Why Republicans Really Refused a Vote on Guns

June 23rd 2016

Kyle Jaeger

Even if House Democrats had managed to force a vote on two gun reform measures — which they attempted, by staging a 25-hour sit-in on Wednesday — there was virtually no chance that the bills would pass. However, getting those "aye" or "nay" votes on the record was important for a reason beyond passing gun control legislation.

It's an election year, and Democrats need to win 30 additional House seats to reclaim a majority. For Republicans in contested House seats, a vote for or against any gun reform measures could leave them vulnerable to Democratic challengers this fall. This is especially true of the two measures House Democrats are currently fighting for, as Vox's Matthew Yglesias writes:

"The expanded background check bill and especially the bill to allow the FBI to veto gun purchases by terrorism suspects is a reasonably rare case of a piece of legislation where Democrats are very eager to have the vote per se and don’t particularly care whether or not the bill passes... The real appeal of the bill isn’t to pass a new law, it’s to run ads against the members of Congress who vote against it."


Because Republicans control the House, they set the voting agenda. There wasn't enough support for what's known as a discharge petition, a tactic that requires signatures from a majority of House members to bring a bill to a vote without leadership's blessing. Democrats resorted to a full-blown protest on the House floor, Politico reports.

By denying House Democrats a vote, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was essentially protecting rank-and-file Republicans from re-election backlash — from constituents as well as donors.

No matter how a given House Republican might have voted on these reform measures, it could come back to bite them come fall. If they voted "no," a Democratic challenger could attack them by arguing that they were enabling suspected terrorists' ability to buy guns; if they voted "yes," they could face heat from donors such as the National Rifle Association, which grades representatives based on their voting record.

It's a lose-lose situation for House Republicans. For House Democrats, the 25-hour sit-in didn't result in a vote or lead to any substantive reform, but it did let them control the media narrative and advance the message that lawmakers are listening to voters and taking gun control seriously.

RELATED: The House Sit-In on Gun Reform Continues