Lawmakers feel pressure on guns

Lawmakers say they are feeling more pressure than ever to act on gun control after the latest deadly mass shooting at a public high school.

A large reason, aides and lawmakers alike say, is the emotional pleas from students who survived the shooting — and who have expressed horror at the idea that nothing will be done in response to the killings of their schoolmates.

The grass-roots movement, dubbed “Never Again,” has kept an extra layer of pressure on members to enact stricter gun laws and take other steps to prevent future massacres.

One legislative solution that appears to be gaining steam in Congress is a bipartisan bill to enhance background checks for gun purchases, which now has the support of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump threatens ex-intel official's clearance, citing comments on CNN Protesters topple Confederate monument on UNC campus Man wanted for threatening to shoot Trump spotted in Maryland MORE, many Republicans and the National Rifle Association. 

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But even narrow gun measures that have the backing of the GOP and White House have stalled in Congress before, underscoring the challenge for lawmakers in overcoming the thorny politics that have long impeded efforts to address gun violence on Capitol Hill.

Still, the public outcry that followed last week’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., has fueled some hope among gun reformers that the political winds are shifting in their favor.

Rep. Mike ThompsonCharles (Mike) Michael ThompsonMcCarthy joins push asking Trump for more wildfire aid in California California wildfires prompt deficit debate in Congress House Dems press Trump on bump stocks ban MORE (D-Calif.) said the protests in recent days constitute “a new type of organic outcry,” one even more prominent than the demonstrations that followed a similar shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

“There just seems to be a lot more determination to get something done — to finally get something done,” Thompson said Tuesday by phone.

“Maybe it’s the organic nature, I’m not sure, but it just feels different. And God knows we need it to be different.”

Congress has repeatedly grappled with how to curb gun violence following various mass shootings over the past several years, including deadly massacres at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn., an outdoor concert on the Las Vegas Strip and a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

However, the calls for action from gun reform advocates, Democratic lawmakers and victims’ families have largely gone unanswered thus far. In the House, Republicans have repeatedly rejected the notion of even holding a hearing.

But after the latest deadly shooting rampage in Florida, high school students are taking the fight into their own hands — a powerful shift that appears to be having an impact on the national conversation surrounding the emotional and heated gun control debate.

Grieving students who survived the mass shooting have mobilized to form the “Never Again” campaign on social media to push for stricter gun laws in an effort to prevent another school shooting.

Young activists have been making impassioned pleas on national television, demanding action from their elected officials and organizing rallies, walkouts and marches — including one planned for Washington, D.C., on March 24.

“Every single person up here today, all these people should be home grieving. But instead we are up here standing together because if all our government and president can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see,” Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, said at a rally over the weekend.

In an early suggestion of the limits of such grass-roots activism — particularly in the face of the powerful gun lobby — Florida state lawmakers on Tuesday refused to consider a bill to ban assault weapons despite student marches in Tallahassee supporting the legislation.

Yet there are some signs that the grass-roots effort could be working on Capitol Hill.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump spoke Friday with Sen. John CornynJohn Cornyn15 senators miss votes despite McConnell's criticism of absentees Sen. Warner to introduce amendment limiting Trump’s ability to revoke security clearances Sentencing reform deal heats up, pitting Trump against reliable allies MORE (R-Texas) about the bill he co-authored with Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDem senator: We will be in a 'banana republic' if Trump pardons Manafort 'and gets away with it' Senate gets to work in August — but many don’t show up Former Teacher of the Year wins Connecticut primary MORE (D-Conn.) to bolster the federal background check system, saying “discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered” to the measure.

Trump also announced Tuesday that he has directed the Justice Department to propose a ban on bump stocks, or devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire much more rapidly, breathing new life into an issue that has been stalled for months.

GOP leaders and Trump had embraced such a ban after the device was used in the Las Vegas shooting last October, but the effort faded amid disagreements over whether Congress or the administration was better suited to make the change.

Further raising hopes that gun control has real momentum is a new Quinnipiac poll that shows 66 percent of Americans support stricter gun laws — the highest level of support ever measured by the university.

“If you think Americans are largely unmoved by the mass shootings, you should think again. Support for stricter gun laws is up 19 points in little more than two years,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll.

But it’s unclear what far-reaching effects, if any, the latest movement will have on a polarized Congress that has spent the last year mired in gridlock over everything from health care to immigration.

In December, the House passed legislation that paired allowing people to use permits for carrying concealed weapons across state lines with the bipartisan Fix NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) Act.

The proposal to improve background checks for gun purchases enjoys widespread bipartisan support in both chambers. It would ensure authorities report criminal records to the NICS and penalize agencies that don’t provide the information to the FBI.

But House GOP leaders’ decision to attach the concealed-carry reciprocity measure — which Democrats oppose — tanked the bipartisan background checks bill’s chances in the Senate.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnell15 senators miss votes despite McConnell's criticism of absentees Overnight Health Care: Azar defends approach on drug rebates | Trump presses Senate to act quickly on opioid crisis | Kentucky governor's Medicaid lawsuit tossed Dem senator introduces proposal to rein in Trump on security clearances MORE (R-Ky.) noted he is a co-sponsor of the upper chamber’s version of the Fix NICS Act, but didn’t say if it would be decoupled from the concealed-carry bill as approved by the House.

There are other ideas, however, being discussed on Capitol Hill to tackle gun violence.

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiCárdenas starts legal defense fund for sex abuse lawsuit Booming economy, kept promises, making America great — again The Hill's Morning Report — Trump showcases ICE ahead of midterm elections MORE (D-Calif.) last week laid out several proposals that are on the short list of Democratic priorities following the Florida shooting, such as expanding the federal background check system to include a broader swath of gun sales and empowering federal researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to treat gun violence as a public health issue.

Another group of Democrats — led by Reps. Salud CarbajalSalud CarbajalLatinos aren't reaching top military positions, study shows IRS makes it easy for nonprofits to spend dark money in our elections Dems demand answers on Pentagon not recognizing Pride Month MORE (Calif.), Elizabeth EstyElizabeth Henderson EstyHouse Dems to invest in South Carolina race Pelosi sees defections from an unusual quarter — the left Election Countdown: GOP worries House majority endangered by top of ticket | Dems make history in Tuesday's primaries | Parties fight for Puerto Rican vote in Florida | GOP lawmakers plan 'Freedom Tour' MORE (Conn.) and Don Beyer (Va.) — is pushing legislation allowing law enforcement and family members to petition judges to remove firearms from gun owners showing signs of violence or instability.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP lawmakers raise concerns over research grants to colleges with Confucius Institutes Paid family leave could give new parents a much-needed lifeline GOP looks to injure Nelson over Russia comments MORE (R-Fla.), who has taken some heat from activists after the Parkland shooting, has expressed support for the so-called red flag laws.

And Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThis week: Senate tries to avoid landmines on massive spending bill Dems to challenge Kavanaugh for White House records Democrats question if Kavanaugh lied about work on terrorism policy MORE (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchTop Ethics Dem calls for Nielsen to resign House votes to disavow carbon tax GOP congressional candidate tells Parkland father to stop 'exploiting' his daughter's death MORE (D-Fla.), who represents Parkland, are planning to introduce legislation to raise the minimum legal age to buy firearms to at least 21 years old.

“Rather than hanging our hats on one specific solution, we want to look at a number of different pieces,” said a Democratic aide, adding that the “very palpable public outrage” both de-politicizes the issue and lends the Democrats a boost.

“You’re going to see Democrats channeling that energy,” the aide said.

If history is any gauge, they’ll have a short window in which to make their case.

Thompson, who heads the Democrats’ gun violence prevention task force, said he’s hoping to host “a national town hall” on the topic in Washington when Congress returns to town next week.

Democrats have used other tactics to keep their priorities in the spotlight before, including staging a sit-in on the House floor after a mass shooting at an Orlando, Fla., nightclub in 2016.

They could also leverage their votes for government funding bills in exchange for action on gun control, like they tried to do for immigration. The next funding deadline is March 23 — one day before the gun reform rally scheduled in D.C.

But Thompson lamented how quickly gun violence slips out of the headlines — and off of Congress’s radar.

“It falls off,” he said. “Something new happens ... and, boom, we’ll be on to the next story.”