Less than a week into his summer recess, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden has joined the chorus of Democrats urging Sen. Mitch McConnell to call lawmakers back to Washington, D.C., for an emergency session in response to two mass shootings over the weekend.
Wyden is one of several Democrats pushing the Senate majority leader to hold a debate on legislation that would require background checks on all firearms, including those sold on the internet and at gun shows. This February, the House passed its version of the bill, hailed by advocates as the most significant gun control measure in more than two decades.
But the bill has sputtered in the Republican-controlled Senate, where it has gone without a vote for five months.
Now, after a weekend of bloodshed that left at least 20 dead in El Paso, Texas, and another nine fatally shot in Dayton, Ohio, Wyden says he believes a vote on background checks is “urgent business.”
“It all has to start on the floor of the United States Senate,” Wyden told the crowd gathered for his town hall in Beaverton Sunday afternoon. “I will be on the very first plane going back to Washington, D.C. [if there's an emergency session].”
Though audience members pressed Wyden on everything from drug pricing to impeachment proceedings, it was gun violence that dominated the two-hour long public meeting.
Voters questioned Wyden on his road map for ending gun violence (“getting loop-hole free background checks”), his stance on assault weapons (“I voted to ban military-style assault weapons, I would do so again.”) and his plan to get bipartisan support for universal background checks (“work every single swing vote in the U.S. Senate.”).
“I’m going to start with senators in the rural West,” he explained, areas where he believes “there’s a sea change going on” when it comes to young rural voters and their views on guns.
Debbie Lindgren, a member of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said she was struck by the senator’s plan to focus on rural America.
“We’ll be looking into that as well,” she said. “As he said, the Senate is rural. We’ll need to go to them to get bipartisan support.”
Jane Elliot, another member of the anti-gun violence group, stood in the back of the town hall, waving a sign reading, 'Vote on HR8,' the formal name for the universal background check bill.
McConnell, she says, “is not doing credit to the Senate, to Kentucky or to the United States. He needs to allow democracy. He needs to allow a vote.”
Wyden told OPB he believes it’s especially important for a vote to be held immediately, as it’s possible the recent rash of shootings could inspire more like it.
“I can’t really imagine anything more urgent than making sure we not see again what has now happened twice in the last 36 hours,” Wyden said. “We all know what experts say in respect to copycats.”
Other members of the Oregon delegation have echoed Wyden’s calls for the Senate to take immediate action. Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, both Democrats, took to Twitter this weekend urging the Senate to debate the bill.
"Stop cowering to the NRA," wrote Merkley, tagging the accounts of both President Donald Trump and McConnell. "It is past time for a full debate on the Senate floor on every idea that can help reduce these massacres."