House Democrats are pushing to force votes on tougher gun laws in the wake of Monday’s deadly shooting at a Tennessee elementary school, eyeing a procedural gambit that would bring the legislation to the floor despite the opposition of Republican leaders.

At a closed-door meeting of the Democratic Caucus Tuesday morning in the Capitol, Virginia moderate Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D) suggested Democrats should launch a discharge petition, which would force the reforms to the floor with the support of a simple House majority.

It’s unclear what changes Democrats might seek, and Spanberger did not promote specific proposals in the Caucus meeting. But she has supported a number of reforms in the past including bills to expand background checks, ban assault weapons, limit magazine capacity, raise the age for firearm ownership, and adopt tougher gun storage requirements — and a spokesman said each of those proposals should be on the table as Democrats fight for tougher laws following the Nashville rampage.  

The petition could arrive as early as this week, according to several Democrats, in order to tap into the outrage surrounding the latest school shooting before the House recesses Thursday for the two-week Easter break.

Still, while all sides have condemned the violence, there is virtually no appetite among Republicans to move tougher gun laws, particularly after Congress enacted a package of reforms in the last Congress. And GOP lawmakers were quick to push back this week against new restrictions that they say would only punish law-abiding gun owners.

“If people are evil, they’re going to do evil things,” said Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), who represents Knoxville. “It’s unfortunate.”

Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.)

Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) leaves a closed-door House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, January 25, 2023. (Greg Nash)

Given the Republicans’ slim House majority, Democrats would need the support of only five GOP lawmakers on their discharge petition to force bills to the floor. But even staunch gun reform advocates say that in the current political environment there’s little chance the petition would hit its mark.

“Pretty hard to count to five in that group; I can count to two or three,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).

“Lots of interest, lots of emotion,” he added. “But the math is a problem in this House.”