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Bridging The Gap
Calls for action in wake of Florida school shooting, but prospects in Congress uncertain.
  Sunday 25 February, 2018
Calls for action in wake of Florida school shooting, but prospects in Congress uncertain.

WASHINGTON — Students, parents and government officials in Florida again called Sunday for various new gun-control and school-safety measures in the wake of the latest mass shooting.

But the chances for legislative action of any kind remains uncertain as Congress returns this week.

One proposal to expand background checks, for example, is "not going to solve all problems," said Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., on NBC's Meet The Press, and he said he is not sure if the plan has enough support to pass.

Other lawmakers and survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., took to the Sunday news shows to express support for some ideas and skepticism about others, including measures being pushed by President Trump.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a supporter of Trump, told Fox News Sunday he opposes one of the president's high-profile proposals: arming teachers and school officials. "I believe you’ve got to focus on the people that are well-trained in law enforcement, that are trained to do this," Scott said.

Andrew Pollack, whose daughter was among the 17 killed in the Parkland shooting, told Fox News Sunday that "no one in America is going to come together on gun control,” but people should support new school safety policies.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who has pushed gun legislation since the 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., told CNN's State of the Union that Trump has invited him to the White House to discuss a package of new laws, and "I'm willing to work across the aisle."

But leaders of the GOP-controlled House and Senate have been relatively quiet since the Florida mass shooting, even as Trump has floated a mix of proposals.

Trump spoke on Friday with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., about possible legislation to strengthen background checks, he said.

“That’ll take place very quickly,” the president said during a joint news conference at the White House with Australia Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull.

A spokesman for McConnell, however, declined to comment on if or when the Senate might take up the various gun-control bills now pending in that chamber.

When lawmakers return on Monday after a week in their home districts, the Senate will take up six pending nominations. House GOP leaders have not yet released the floor schedule for the week, although lawmakers in that chamber will only be in session for two days.

Trump hasn’t decided whether to propose a gun-control bill to Congress or encourage lawmakers to develop their own proposals, a spokesman said Thursday.

Can Trump’s proposals advance? Here’s where some of them stand:

Arming teachers

Trump is pushing hard for arming “gun-adept” teachers and coaches as a deterrent, saying Friday “a teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened.”

National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre, speaking at the annual gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference, immediately endorsed Trump's call to "harden our schools" but did not specify that the teachers themselves should have guns. Through its National School Shield program, the NRA has long proposed schools have more security personnel and police officers to protect them from violence.

There doesn’t appear to be a legislative path for this proposal, which was rejected by teachers and law enforcement groups as a bad idea. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said during a Feb. 21 CNN town hall on gun violence that he doesn’t support the idea.

“The notion that my kids are going to school with teachers that are armed with a weapon is not something, quite frankly, I’m comfortable with,” he said. “And this is really about the safety of the teachers as much as anything else.”
Semiautomatic rifles

Trump broke with the NRA to call for an increase in the age limit for semi-automatic gun buyers from 18 to 21, the age for legally buying a handgun. Authorities say the alleged shooter, Nikolas Cruz, 19, used an AR-15 style semiautomatic rifle that he purchased legally.

"It should all be at 21," Trump said at a Thursday meeting in the White House with government officials. "And the NRA will back it."

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz, tweeted on Wednesday that he’s working on bipartisan legislation with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to boost the minimum age for buying an AR-15-style rifle from 18 to 21 for non-military buyers.

"A kid too young buy a handgun should be too young to buy an #AR15," he tweeted.

On Friday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced he will work with state lawmakers to boost the minimum age for buying a gun to 21 and ban the purchase or selling of rapid-fire devices known as “bump stocks.”
Background checks

Since the Parkland shooting, Trump has also endorsed the idea of expanded background checks for potential gun buyers, especially ones with mental health problems. He spoke on Feb. 16 with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, about Cornyn’s bipartisan bill to boost authorities' reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, NICS.

The bill, called “Fix NICS,” has bipartisan support and came as a response to the mass shooting at a Texas church in November. In that instance, the gunman's violent history would have precluded him from buying a gun, but authorities failed to report it to the federal background check system.

“While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a Feb. 19 statement.

The House in December passed its version of Fix NICS, but it combined the measure with legislation to expand the right to carry concealed weapons, the NRA’s top legislative priority. Cornyn, an author of both measures, warned in December that combining the two would make it harder to pass the “consensus bill,” Fix NICS.

Indeed, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York last week urged Republicans to “avoid the cynical and dangerous approach” the House took, combining the two bills.
Bump stocks

Trump has also ordered his Justice Department to issue new regulations to ban bump stocks, which allow semiautomatic firearms to mimic automatic weapons. The devices were found among the weapons used in the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people Oct. 1.

While Republicans support new regulations, Democrats have argued that legislation is needed to ban the devices. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives previously found that it lacked the authority to ban the devices under current law.

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2018/02/25/calls-action-wake-florida-school-shooting-but-prospects-congress-uncertain/366827002/

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