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 TrumpSenate GOP budget ignores Trump, cuts defense Trump says he'll nominate Stephen Moore to Fed White House: ISIS territory in Syria has been 100 percent eliminated MORE, many Republicans and the National Rifle Association. 

ADVERTISEMENT

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 ThompsonEight Republicans side with Dems on background checks for gun sales House passes bill expanding background checks on gun sales House slated to vote on most significant gun control bill in years 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 CornynSenate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks GOP rep to introduce constitutional amendment to limit Supreme Court seats to 9 Court-packing becomes new litmus test on left MORE (R-Texas) about the bill he co-authored with Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySanders: 'We must follow New Zealand's lead' and ban assault weapons The fear of colorectal cancer as a springboard for change Dems shift strategy for securing gun violence research funds 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 McConnellTrump: Green New Deal 'the most preposterous thing' and 'easy to beat' 2020 Dems avoid this year's AIPAC conference GOP eager to exploit Dem court-packing fight 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 PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game Dem divisions deepen over approach to climate change 2020 Dems avoid this year's AIPAC conference 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 CarbajalHouse Dem vets press McConnell on emergency declaration Dem rep 'surprised' more Republicans didn't vote to block Trump emergency declaration The Hill's Morning Report - Trump’s long day: From Michael Cohen to Kim Jong Un MORE (Calif.), Elizabeth EstyElizabeth Henderson EstyConnecticut elects first black congresswoman Former aides alleging sexual harassment on Capitol Hill urge congressional action Rising Dem star in Connecticut says people like me ‘deserve a seat at the table’ in Congress 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 RubioThe Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game GOP eager to exploit Dem court-packing fight Rubio's pragmatic thinking on China 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 FeinsteinGOP lawmaker offers constitutional amendment capping Supreme Court seats at 9 Overnight Energy: Judge halts drilling on Wyoming public lands over climate change | Dems demand details on Interior's offshore drilling plans | Trump mocks wind power Dem senators demand offshore drilling info before Bernhardt confirmation hearing MORE (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchOvernight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Dems push Pelosi on bill allowing federal funding of abortion | Key Republican says Dems left him out of drug pricing talks | Court upholds Ohio law to defund Planned Parenthood | Trump taps acting FDA chief Schumer: Trump 'redefined chutzpah' by calling Dems an 'anti-Jewish party' Son of missing ex-FBI agent says Trump's sanctions will help bring father home 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.”