Gun control has repeatedly been a losing issue for Democrats. Yet Rep. Steve Israel, the leader of House Democrats' efforts to win a majority in the chamber, is pushing for a new law he says would close a loophole to keep guns out of the hands of violent juveniles.
The New York congressman, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is taking aim at a portion of the Brady Bill. Under that landmark legislation, individuals who have been convicted of a crime and serve more than one year in prison cannot own a firearm.
However, according to Israel, many juvenile offenders (up to age 17) receive more lenient sentences because of their age. This means that, even though they commit violent crimes, they can still get a gun because they did not spend more than a year in prison.
"It's scary to think that someone who committed a violent crime as a minor could easily purchase a gun just a few years later because of a loophole in current law," Israel said in a statement. "In order to keep our communities safe, we must expand the Brady Bill to prevent juvenile defenders from getting guns. That's why I'm proposing common-sense legislation that will keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them."
The Brady Bill amended the Gun Control Act of 1968 to require that individuals who seek to purchase guns from licensed dealers undergo a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which was set up by the FBI. It also dictates that individuals who have been convicted in any court of a crime and serve more than one year in prison cannot own a firearm.
Despite Israel's optimism, the bill faces long odds. The House Republican leadership, which controls what legislation gets considered, has shown no inclination to support gun control bills. And even a relatively modest background checks bill failed in the Democratic majority Senate in April 2013, just months after the Newtown, Conn., elementary school massacre.
Still, it's the kind of proposal that could help motivate the Democratic base in 2014. Democrats would need to win 17 seats to claim the House majority - an uphill task, to say the least.
Israel has proven to be an innovate political strategist. The 2014 Almanac of American Politics writes of him:
Democrat Steve Israel, first elected in 2000, is amiable, ambitious and an able fundraiser. He won praise from his party's leaders for his leadership of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee despite the party's failure to win a House majority in 2012, and he agreed to stay on as chairman for another two years.
Israel remained upbeat, saying the 1012 results indicated that Republicans faced longer-term structural problems such as an inability to attract Latino voters. He also argued that GOP redistricting prowess will have a negative side effect. 'Republicans redrew already-safe members into even more Republican districts, driving control of their party more to their base, forcing more primaries, and making it less likely that they can put forward a party agenda that appeals to independents,' he said in a February 2013 memo to colleagues.
That's just the dynamic Israel and colleagues have in mind in pushing gun control bills months ahead of Election Day.