House GOP rejects calls for new gun legislation

House GOP rejects calls for new gun legislation
© Greg Nash

House Republicans brushed aside calls for stricter gun laws on Tuesday, signaling they want to focus on school security and figuring out why law enforcement failed to act on repeated warnings about the suspect in a mass shooting at a Florida high school this month.

At his weekly leadership news conference, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanRepublicans are avoiding gun talks as election looms The Hill's 12:30 Report Flake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan MORE (R-Wis.) said the House had already acted on a bill to strengthen federal criminal background checks for gun purchases. And he suggested the House would not vote on legislation by Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinLawmakers feel pressure on guns Feinstein: Trump must urge GOP to pass bump stock ban Florida lawmakers reject motion to consider bill that would ban assault rifles MORE (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchLawmakers feel pressure on guns Gingrich says arming teachers only long-term solution to school shootings Florida Dem: The ‘world has heard’ high school shooting survivors MORE (D-Fla.) that would ban assault weapons.

“We shouldn’t be banning guns from law-abiding citizens,” Ryan said at a news conference. “We should be focusing on making sure that citizens who should not get guns in the first place don’t get those guns.”

President TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE has backed a wide range of gun proposals following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead.

The students who survived the shooting have become powerful voices in the politically charged debate, taking their calls for action directly to cable television, the White House and Capitol Hill.

Trump has tentatively embraced improving how states report to the existing criminal background check system for gun purchases, raising the minimum age requirement to buy a semi-automatic weapon from 18 to 21 and banning devices that make such weapons fire much more rapidly.

Rep. Chris CollinsChristopher (Chris) Carl CollinsBipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees To lower prescription drug prices, fix existing drug discount programs Right revolts on budget deal MORE (R-N.Y.), a Trump ally, predicted many Republicans would “follow the lead of the president” if he chooses to forcefully get behind any single proposal.

But House Republicans who returned to Washington this week have so far shown little appetite to take up many of Trump’s ideas, casting doubts on whether the Parkland shooting might have represented a tipping point in the nation’s long debate on guns.

The House already passed the narrow background check measure supported by Trump, known as the Fix NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) Act, but only after it was attached to controversial legislation to allow people to carry concealed weapons across state lines. The latter proposal kept the bill from passing the Senate.

Ryan said GOP leadership would wait to see what the Senate does with the bipartisan measure before deciding whether to consider the legislation as a stand-alone bill in the House.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE (R-Ky.) wants to put the Fix NICS Act on the Senate floor, but Senate Democrats are demanding amendment votes in exchange for their cooperation and conservatives have voiced due process concerns with the bill, making it unclear whether even the most modest gun control effort will be able to pass.

Stricter gun proposals stand even less of a chance. House Republicans emerging from a GOP conference meeting on Tuesday threw cold water on the idea of imposing new age limits on gun purchases or banning assault weapons, saying such restrictions would not have prevented the Parkland attack.

“We need to put more effort into identifying potential shooters and tell local law enforcement to enforce the laws we already have,” said Rep. Joe BartonJoe Linus BartonBoth sides of immigration fight unhappy with Senate debate Speculation swirls about Kevin McCarthy’s future Lawmakers unveil landmark overhaul of sexual harassment policies MORE (R-Texas), who was shot at during a GOP baseball practice last summer.

Not every GOP member is shying away from gun restrictions.

Rep. Brian MastBrian Jeffrey MastProgressive group targets GOP moderates on immigration Cook Political Report moves 21 House races toward Dems The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Fla.), who supports banning assault weapons and raising the age requirement for purchasing certain rifles, said he presented some of his ideas to his colleagues. But he added that they were not met with “thunderous applause.”

GOP members prefer to focus their response on bolstering the safety and security on school campuses.

“We need to have people on the scene who are comfortable using weapons,” said Rep. Roger WilliamsJohn (Roger) Roger WilliamsGinsburg calls independent judiciary the nation’s ‘hallmark and pride’ GOP lawmaker rips Huckabee for ‘despicable’ joke about Ruth Bader Ginsburg Ginsburg will not attend Trump's first State of the Union MORE (R-Texas). “We need to secure the schools now, because this debate is going to last a long time.”

Trump has similarly called for arming teachers with concealed weapons and ending gun-free school zones, which he says attract  would-be shooters.

Ryan said that while he personally backs Trump’s idea of arming teachers and faculty, he thinks the decision should be left up to local and state governments.

Still, there are a slate of other school security ideas being kicked around in Congress as Republicans start to craft their school safety bill.

Rep. Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerOvernight Defense: House passes defense spending bill in symbolic vote | Official resigns, worker fired for Hawaii fake missile alert | General says US would have 'minutes' of warning time after N. Korea launch House passes defense spending bill in symbolic vote Overnight Finance: House Appropriations chair to retire | Exit sets off fight for gavel | GOP banks on tax cuts to help in midterms | Crypto exchange under scrutiny after theft | Conservatives push Trump on capital gains taxes MORE (R-Texas) is drafting legislation that would encourage local school districts to buy and install metal detectors.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsHouse conservative rejects ‘any suggestion of a coup on the speakership’ Freedom Caucus chairman warns Ryan over immigration Burned by the budget, right warns Ryan on immigration MORE  (R-N.C.) said he has identified several potential solutions to harden security on school campuses, such as increasing funding for school resource officers and offering incentives for armed volunteers who want to help protect schools.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers also touted a measure on Tuesday that would provide federal funding for prevention programs designed to educate students and adults about how to spot and report warning signs of gun violence.

“Security requires a multilayered approach. Our bill supports one very important layer of that security for our schools,” Rep. John RutherfordJohn Henry RutherfordMORE (R-Fla.), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said at a press conference Tuesday.

In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, House Republicans have also zeroed in on law enforcement’s botched response to the deadly rampage.

The FBI and local police have admitted that they received multiple warnings about the suspected shooter but failed to follow up on them.

It has also been reported that an armed officer stationed at the high school remained outside the building while the shooter was firing on students and teachers inside.

The House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees requested briefings from the FBI on its response to the incident, and are also planning to hold hearings on the issue.

“We need to get to the bottom of how these breakdowns occurred,” Ryan said. “We are going to be looking at the system failures.”

Scott Wong contributed.