When Democrats took control of the U.S. House as a result of last November’s election, many Republicans assumed, perhaps optimistically, the danger presented by this new liberal majority would come primarily from legislation passed thanks to their newly-acquired majority; legislation that would be blocked by either the Senate or the White House. Yet, for those like myself who have served in the House of Representatives and know the full force of the House is not necessarily in the legislation brought to the floor, but in the various committees that wield enormous power for the majority party, we warned that there would be consequences; in particular for the Second Amendment.
With the 116th Congress just two weeks old, that danger already is coming into sharp focus.
While most observers’ eyes initially focused on the drama surrounding freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s long shot bid for a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, veteran Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) was quietly installed as Chair of the Financial Services Committee. For gun owners and businesses, this is a worst-case scenario.
To many of those outside observers, it might seem as if the Judiciary Committee — with primary jurisdiction in the House over firearms laws and regulations — would be the key battleground for firearms-related attacks. However, for those of us who bear the battle scars earned through years of fighting to protect the Second Amendment from attacks in the Congress, it is clear this war will be fought on many fronts, and through attacks direct as well as indirect.
President Obama, for example, enlisted bureaucracies under his command as diverse as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (among others), as weapons with which to weaken Second Amendment rights, by abusing those agencies’ regulatory powers.
Lawful firearms businesses will remember well “Operation Choke Point” as a clear abuse of the federal government’s regulatory power over financial institutions, and part of a drive to choke off the ability of those businesses to engage in normal and necessary financial practices. (Even today, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is using similar tactics against insurance companies in his State that have lawful commercial ties to the National Rifle Association.)
Long a fierce enemy of the NRA and the Second Amendment generally, Maxine Waters now is gearing up to use her newly-acquired power as Chair of the House Financial Services Committee, to punish those entities subject to the extensive jurisdiction of that Committee that dare to engage directly or indirectly in the lawful business of firearms. Considering that the jurisdiction of this Committee extends beyond even every financial institution touched by federal law or regulation, to include any housing program receiving federal funds, the room for serious mischief to be done by this Congresswoman is troubling in the extreme.
Federal housing policy may very well be a starting point from which Waters will launch her Second Amendment attacks. In so doing the California Congresswoman would be following in the footsteps of President Bill Clinton. In the mid-1990s this anti-Second Amendment President tried to leverage the federal government’s authority over public housing, to limit Second Amendment rights of individuals and families living in such locations.
Just as what is occurring in New York, none of the options available to Waters or any of the other House committees now controlled by Democrats, requires an actual vote on the House floor, or even in the committees themselves. And, there are no effective mechanisms available to the GOP minority to stop Waters or other Committee Chairs from using their clout, backed by threats of subpoena or appropriations riders, to bully corporations and agencies under their purview to adopt anti-Second Amendment practices or policies.
In addition to the threat of choking out firearm manufacturers and dealers financially, there is another even more ominous threat facing firearm owners. As the National Review highlights here, Waters’ Financial Services Committee could demand that downstream entities, such as credit card processing companies and banks, begin tracking individual purchases of firearms (bypassing retailers themselves who would likely balk at such demands). Such moves by the Congress, especially by committee chairs, would represent a clear — and perhaps initially effective — way to circumvent the provision already in federal law that prohibits the government from maintaining a database of firearms purchasers when their names are submitted to the FBI for the required instant background check.
All this makes it essential that President Trump and the Republican leaders in the GOP-controlled Senate remain highly vigilant and unafraid to stand up to what the new anti-Second Amendment majority in the House will be pursuing as a priority agenda item. Backing down or being asleep at the wheel are not options.