An attendee handles a revolver in the Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc. booth on the exhibition floor of the 144th National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meetings and Exhibits at the Music City Center in Nashville, Tenn. on April 11, 2015.
Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty

What it takes to get Congress to take a closer look at gun violence

The Rachel Maddow Show, 2/6/19, 9:46 PM ET

Democrats restore oversight role of Congress, address key crises

Rachel Maddow reports on hearings being held in Congress on gun violence, climate change and Donald Trump’s child separation policy after years of inaction under Republican control.
Rachel Maddow reports on hearings being held in Congress on gun violence, climate change and Donald Trump’s child separation policy after years of inaction under Republican control.
In the recent past, news consumers would come across headlines that referenced a “GOP lawmaker” who said or did something foolish, leaving readers to wonder which Republican the piece was referring to. More often than not, it was Michele Bachmann, Louie Gohmert, or Paul Broun.

And while some of these more cartoonish members are still on Capitol Hill – Gohmert and Steve King, for example, keep getting re-elected – we’re occasionally reminded about the torch being passed to a new generation of lawmakers who are equally difficult to take seriously.

The Washington Post  reported yesterday, for example, on some of the antics on display during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence.

A congressional hearing on gun violence erupted into recriminations on Wednesday after Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) argued for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and called for the removal of two fathers whose children were killed in last year’s mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Gaetz, one of President Trump’s most vocal supporters on Capitol Hill, prompted an outcry from the Parkland fathers when he argued at a House Judiciary Committee hearing that illegal immigration is a greater threat to public safety than gun violence.

The far-right Floridian already had an unfortunate reputation, and yesterday’s display won’t help Gaetz’s poor standing.

But while the congressman and his absurdities mattered, let’s not miss the forest for the trees: there was actually a House hearing yesterday on gun violence.

That may not seem especially notable, but this was the first House hearing on guns this decade. As Rachel noted on last night’s show, there have been all kinds of horrible mass shootings in recent years, including the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, but none of them prompted the House, controlled by Republicans from January 2011 until last month, to convene a single policy discussion on the issue.

We finally know what it takes to get the House to examine gun violence: it’s not a mass shooting; it’s an election.

In this case, yesterday’s hearing wasn’t just a generic discussion. At issue is a piece of legislation, H.R. 8 – unveiled on the anniversary of the Tucson Shooting that nearly claimed the life of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) – which would require background checks on U.S. gun sales.

As of this morning, the bill has 231 co-sponsors, five of whom are Republicans. Since it takes 218 votes to pass a bill in the House, I have a hunch the bill will clear the chamber, Matt Gaetz’s efforts notwithstanding.

Its chances in the Republican-led Senate, however, aren’t as good.