The House Republicans Who Voted Yes on H.R.8 Are Proof the Bill Can Pass in the Senate

August 14, 2019
In The News

It feels like months ago. Except it's only been 10 days. Ten days since a 21-year-old white supremacist entered a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and killed 22 people while injuring 26 others. Mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, aunts, uncles, children, friends. Thirteen hours later, America would wake up to the news that a 24-year-old entered Dayton, Ohio's Ned Peppers Bar and murdered 10 people, including his own sister, and injured 27 more.

Yet, it's been 166 days since, in a 240 to 190 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R.8.—the most historic piece of bipartisan gun legislation our country has seen in a decade. (If you need a refresher on the bill, click here.) Preventing the next mass shooting is currently in the hands of the Senate, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has refused to bring the bill to the floor. 

Of the 240 House representatives who voted for the bill in February, eight of them are Republicans: Vern Buchanan (R-FL-16), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL-25), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-1), Will Hurd (R-TX-23), Peter T. King (R-NY-2), Brian Mast (R-FL-18), Chris Smith (R-NJ-4), and Fred Upton (R-MI-6). Sure, there may only be a handful of GOP yes votes, but this support matters for the greater challenge ahead: getting enough senators in the Republican-led Senate to vote for H.R.8.

“Senators are clearly feeling pressure to support background checks and red flag legislation, and it’s our job to keep the heat on until the Senate returns from its August break," explains Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. "Americans are refusing to allow gun violence to continue ravaging our communities. That’s why we’ll spend the next few weeks rallying, meeting with our Senators in state, and continuing to build this movement to demand the Senate finally takes action.”

MarieClaire.com reached out to the eight House Republicans who voted for H.R.8 to learn more about their decision to support the bill, and how they plan to urge their Senate Republican colleagues to do the same. Only three out of the eight representatives agreed to go on the record; the rest did not respond or were unavailable for comment. Here's what they had to say.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY-2) on why he voted yes for H.R.8: "For me, it's a common-sense bill. Some of the lobbyists out here make it out like the bill is taking away people's guns or abolishing the Second Amendment. All it says is all gun sales will be subject to a background check whether or not you have a criminal record or history of mental illness. Other than that, people can keep their guns and they can buy their guns.

I'm not a big gun fan myself, but I understand people really do want to have guns. In other parts of the country it's part of the culture. [H.R.8] is not trying to interfere with that—it's just keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and mentally unstable people. It's only part of the answer, but it's an essential part of the answer." 

On breaking away from the majority opinion of his House Republican colleagues: "The demographics of the Republican party have shifted. There are only two Republicans in New York, there's only one Republican in New Jersey, and there are none anywhere in New England. The party has shifted to the South and the West, and they come from districts that are extremely pro-gun. I have no problem voting the way I did, but I didn't expect to be changing too many opinions. I think now, and I hate to say this, but there is something is vicious and vile and evil after what happened in El Paso and Dayton. This may be able to mobilize and get people's attention and show them that whether you live in the deep South or whether you live in the middle of an urban center, you, your family, your grandchildren, your spouse could be subject to this type of mass murder. It would be very good if the president urged a vote in the Senate. It's as much a party issue as it is a regional issue."

When we are able to get this passed, five years from now people will wonder what the debate was all about.

On urging his Senate Republican colleagues to vote yes on H.R.8: "Look at the bill. It's not an attempt in any way to take away the weapons. Otherwise, nothing is going to happen, and there's going to be another massacre. However, it's not the only answer. We have to deal with mental illness, issues like video games and the impact they're having, and the fact that kids growing up don't spend enough time with their families. These are all social conditions, though. One thing we can definitely do is gun regulation and background checks."

On what constituents can do: "I would urge people in all states, but especially in states considered pro-gun states, to make appeals to their Senators saying, 'We're the majority. We have no problem with [H.R.8.] going ahead.' When we are able to get this passed, five years from now people will wonder what the debate was all about."

Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX-23) on why he voted yes for H.R.8: "First and foremost, my belief is that we should keep guns out of the hands of people that shouldn't have them. That is the purpose of the background checks system. The conversation should be, how do we prevent young men from shooting up schools, churches, and shopping centers? How do you disrupt the attack cycle? This is what I spent most of my adult life doing when I was in the C.I.A.

If you would have told me on September 12, 2001 that it would be 18 years before another major attack on the homeland, I would have said you were crazy. It's the same level of discipline we can apply to this problem of domestic terrorism—specifically white nationalist terrorism."

On moving the bill towards the Senate: "I hope my Democrat friends in the Senate who aren't running for president are willing to work with the White House to figure out a plan on how to get it past the Senate. In my five-and-a-half years in Congress, I find it hard to predict what the Senate may or may not do, but I hope these conversations are going on. I hope when they talk to family members and communities that have dealt with such tragedy it leaves an impact on them."

Let's focus on what unites us, not what divides us. When we can do that, we're going to be able to get big things done.

On additional steps we can take to eliminate gun violence: "The other thing I hope we can do, now that we have a budget deal in place, is to make [part of the budget] for countering violent extremism. We know the FBI is overwhelmed with digital leads from people seeing something on social media that could be dangerous behavior. The FBI needs resources. Right now, probably the best data and understanding of white nationalist terrorism is the Anti-Defamation League. Why don't we have an algorithm on the social media sites that's trained by federal law enforcement to help prioritize and the FBI can interrupt?

It's not just gun legislation, it's prevention legislation. The Dayton Police Department responded in 30 seconds. Can other police departments do that? It's about training, good employees, good people. Where did they learn that? Let's export that training to other places. It's the connectivity between private security, local law enforcement, federal law enforcement. Can that be improved?

The El Paso shooter's mother called the police saying she was concerned her son had a weapon. I don't know what happened after that, and I'm not criticizing, but if police had showed up to his door, could that have been enough to disrupt his thinking and following through on the attack? Sometimes you can disrupt the attack cycle by something that simple. These are all things that can be done with bipartisan support."

On breaking away from the majority opinion of his House Republican colleagues: "The way I've operated in Congress is to do what I think is right, and articulate the reasons why. You have groups like Moms Demand Action and Everytown that have a lot of good data for this legislation. So, being able to make decisions that are data-driven is a lot easier for me."

On urging his Senate Republican colleagues to vote yes on H.R.8: "Let's focus on what unites us, not what divides us. When we can do that, we're going to be able to get big things done."

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-1) on why he voted yes for H.R.8: "I take a very pragmatic view and really urge all of my colleagues to do the same. Gun violence is a very complicated problem that requires a comprehensive response, but certainly one of the pieces to that response is legislative. H.R.8 basically plugs all of the holes in the background checks system. It's a very common-sense step to prevent gun violence to require that any sale or transfer of firearm be subject to a background check to make sure that people don't have a criminal background, domestic violence background, etc. These are tragic situations that can be fixed with legislation. There are other pieces of the puzzle, like mental health, and red flag laws that could have prevented a situation like we saw in Parkland. 

I'm only two-and-a-half years into this, so I don't approach this from any political angle at all. I just call balls and strings as I see it. It could happen to our own children. I'm tired of this mentality that these shootings occur and people just bury their heads in the sand and they wait for enough time to go by and then we have another massacre. This has reached epidemic proportions. It has to be treated seriously, and we have the ability to do this. I always point everybody to 9/11. After 9/11, we as a country said never again. We as a country were never going to allow terrorists to infiltrate a cockpit and treat a commercial airline like a guided missile. And we took a lot of steps to ensure that happened. We can do that with gun violence.

My top responsibility in this job is not to get re-elected, it's to protect our community members—particularly our children.

The question is, do our elected officials have the courage to get it done? I try to set the example, as a Republican and as a supporter of the Second Amendment, that we need to take steps to prevent these massacres from happening, and I'm not afraid to stick my neck out on this. My top responsibility in this job is not to get re-elected, it's to protect our community members, particularly our children."

On moving the bill towards the Senate: "Senator McConnell needs to pick this legislation up. Both of my U.S. Senators are supportive of background checks legislation: I have one Democrat and one Republican member of the U.S. Senate, who are committed to fixing this. It's incumbent upon the Senate to pick this legislation up, and put everybody on the spot. They should be forced to vote on it, and go back home and answer to their constituents as to why they voted the way they did. What I don't support is not even bringing the matter to the floor."

On additional steps we can take to prevent gun violence: "We can increase funding for mental health, pass red flag laws, and develop best practice scenarios for local law enforcement to respond to these circumstances. Just like we have school nurses for physical health, we need to have mental health professionals and social workers inside schools to give kids an avenue to talk. Kids today face a lot of challenges a lot of us adults didn't have to face growing up.

 Hundreds of thousands protest against NRA during 'March for Our Lives' Rally, Washington D.C.

On urging his Senate Republican colleagues to vote yes on H.R.8: "I encourage them to not be intimidated by any interest group or any lobbying group. Follow your conscience. Remind yourself that our most important responsibility in this job is to protect our communities and protect our kids. Don't worry about elections. Elections will take care of themselves. Just show courage and be more concerned about your principals rather than re-election. You know it's going to happen again, and we have to start taking steps to prevent it.

The political pressure has to come from the ground up. Politicians and elected officials respond to their constituents. If there's enough of a outcry we can get it done. I can apply pressure as a colleague in the other chamber, but this really needs to come from the constituents. If they apply a lot of pressure on everybody who is sitting on the sidelines, that's ultimately what's going to carry the day. We can't allow these incidents to keep occurring. If this law was in place, lives could have been saved."

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