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Van Hollen revisits gun control debate ahead of election


Rep. Chris Van Hollen joined a group headed by former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords to call on voters to vote for candidates who back “common sense” gun control measures.

The Democratic candidate for Senate made the push on Tuesday in Annapolis alongside members of the Americans for Responsible Solutions political action committee and Del. Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery. The committee is led by Giffords and her husband retired Navy Capt. Mark Kelly. Giffords was shot in the head in 2011 in Tucson, Arizona and suffered a severe brain injury.

Van Hollen called it “really despicable” that the Republican majority in Congress has rejected motions from Democrats to bring gun control legislation to the floor for a vote. A set of proposed bills would’ve required universal criminal background checks for all gun sales as well as a ban on sales to those on the no-fly list.

“That’s why you saw the filibuster. That’s why you saw the sit-in in the House of Representatives,” Van Hollen said. “They call it ‘The People’s House,’ but the people in this country were not even given the opportunity to have a vote on these common sense gun measures … ”

Tuesday’s news conference was part of a nationwide push to spur voters to the polls on the issue. Called the Vocal Majority Bus Tour, it’s meant to highlight how a number of polls find that a large majority of Americans support measures like requiring criminal background checks.

Van Hollen and other Maryland Democrats participated in the June sit-in, which saw 170 lawmakers participate in a day-long protest on a lack of legislative action following the massacre in Orlando which saw 49 people shot to dead inside of a nightclub.

Jen Pauliukonis, president of the Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence group, said legislation needs to be enacted at the federal level as “too many guns flow into our communities from states” with more relaxed gun laws.

“About 90 people are killed everyday with a gun. Seven of those are women and children,” she said. “And beyond that, there are real faces and real people suffering from the excruciating pain of losing someone to this violence.”

“There are no second chances when someone has easy access to a gun,” she said. “And yet Congress did nothing. They did nothing after Aurora. They did nothing after Sandy Hook. They did nothing after Orlando, the worst mass shooting in U.S. History.”

Pauliukonis met with Van Hollen’s Republican opponent Del. Kathy Szeliga, R-Baltimore County, in August to discuss stricter firearms laws.

Szeliga did not support the measures and advocated for a stricter enforcement of existing gun laws. The Baltimore County delegate did not immediately respond Tuesday for comment.

Van Hollen also has proposed creating federal financial incentives for states to enact handgun-licensing programs, which was passed in Maryland in 2013. The state law requires handgun purchasers to be fingerprinted and pass a training class while also barring individuals who have been involuntarily committed to a mental health institution from owning a firearm.

Del. Kathleen Dumais, a Montgomery County Democrat who was a key advocate in that bill’s passage during its debate in the legislature, also spoke on Tuesday about the need to enact stricter federal laws.

“There is movement in Congress … but we didn’t get any legislation,” she said. “We have to do that.”

Szeliga voted against the state legislation in 2013. This year said she would take a broader approach to addressing violence than focusing solely on guns, tying the issue both to “radical Islam that has spilled over to our country” as well as “those who are severely mentally disturbed and have a tendency to act out violently.”

Both Van Hollen and Dumais urged voters passionate about the issue to support Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The National Rifle Association, which opposes much of the legislation discussed Tuesday, backs Republican candidate Donald Trump and has spent millions of dollars on television commercials advocating for the billionaire real estate mogul.

“We’ve got a presidential candidate in Hillary Clinton who favors common sense gun safety measures,” Van Hollen said. “We have a Republican candidate by the name of Donald Trump. And in addition to his many, many, many flaws, he is also in the pocket of the gun lobby.”