Senate Judiciary Chairman Says Gun Control Is 'Top Priority'

Sen. Dick Durbin/ Getty Images
January 28, 2021

Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) plans to make gun control a "top priority" for the Senate Judiciary Committee under his leadership.

After winning control of the committee chairmanship on Wednesday, Durbin said he had met with a group of activists and promised to prioritize action on guns.

"Today I had the chance to speak with a group of gun violence prevention advocates from across the country," Durbin tweeted. "I told them that reducing gun violence will be a top priority of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And I will never stop fighting for gun safety." 

Democrats enjoy a slim majority in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris able to cast tie-breaking votes, a partisan split that makes sweeping, new gun-control legislation difficult to pass. Durbin's control of the Judiciary Committee, however, will allow him to shape America's legal landscape. His ability to shepherd President Joe Biden's judicial nominees to federal courts could play a decisive role in numerous gun-rights cases. The committee also oversees federal law that regulates firearms, including the federal gun background check system.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), the committee's top Republican, said he hopes Durbin will pursue similar gun initiatives to the past Congress instead of attempting to push through sweeping liberal changes.

"Unduly abridging or regulating those rights, especially if it’s through a strictly partisan process, is wrong," Grassley told the Washington Free Beacon. "I hope, if Senator Durbin chooses to focus on this issue, it will be with a bipartisan, consensus-building approach." 

Durbin's office did not respond to a request for comment. 

Grassley pointed to the Fix NICS bill as an example of the bipartisan approach on guns he championed while chairman of the committee. In 2017, the committee held hearings on the bill in an effort to improve the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) after the Sutherland Springs church shooter's criminal records were left out of the system allowing him to buy a gun. It eventually became law with support from both parties.

Durbin has a long history of supporting new gun-control legislation, including bans on the sale of AR-15 rifles and opposing judges with a history of questioning strict gun-control laws. Durbin criticized Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation hearing for an opinion she wrote arguing the lifetime-gun-ownership ban for nonviolent felons is unconstitutional. He told Barrett the categorical ban was appropriate because it is "totally impractical" to go "case by case" to determine if a felon is violent or not before stripping them of their gun rights. 

Grassley pledged to defend the Second Amendment in the committee and hold judicial nominees accountable for their views on guns regardless of how Durbin decides to run things.

"I have always been and will continue to be a steadfast defender of the Second Amendment rights of Iowans and all Americans," he said.