Congress steps into thorny gun debate

Congress steps into thorny gun debate
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GOP leaders in the House are preparing a legislative package aimed at bolstering school safety in reaction to the shooting this month at a Florida high school that left 17 dead and reopened a national debate over guns.

“We’re gonna do a lot on school safety,” Rep. Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversKoch campaign touts bipartisan group behind ag labor immigration bill Waters clashes with Trump officials over 'disastrous' housing plans Financial sector's work on SAFE Banking Act shows together, everyone achieves more MORE (R-Ohio), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told The Hill.

He said the effort will be aimed at improving safety on school campuses, but will also include some gun-related measures.

“Part of that’s gun stuff, but part of that’s school safety stuff,” he said.

“You may see something introduced this week, but obviously you won’t see it passed this week,” Stivers told The Hill, referring to the shortened workweek in the House. “But pretty quickly. You’ll see it soon.”

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The legislative effort comes after President TrumpDonald John TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign MORE called last week for more teachers to be armed in response to the shooting.

 

Trump has also called for background check legislation, raising the age limit for purchasing assault weapons to 21 and banning bump stocks, which increase a semi-automatic weapon’s rate of fire.

But the president has been particularly focused on ending gun-free zones around schools, which he argues serve as an invitation for would-be shooters, and for arming at least some teachers and administrators so that they could fire back.

Trump met with National Rifle Association (NRA) leaders over the weekend, and spoke with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanWarren now also knocking Biden on Social Security Biden alleges Sanders campaign 'doctored video' to attack him on Social Security record Sanders campaign responds to Biden doctored video claims: Biden should 'stop trying to doctor' public record MORE (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump admin releases trove of documents on Ukrainian military aid The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions What to watch for on Day 2 of Senate impeachment trial MORE (R-Ky.) last week. He is set to meet with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Wednesday.

Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules This week: Raucous rules fight, opening arguments in impeachment trial White House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team MORE (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and a lawmaker who frequently talks to Trump, said the “biggest thing” he is looking at is how to address safety on school campuses.

Meadows said he is eyeing a number of options, including increasing money for school resource officers and providing some incentives to allow teachers and school administrators to carry weapons.

A number of Republicans across the country have suggested their views on gun restrictions are shifting in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Student survivors of the shooting have taken their emotional pleas directly to cable television, Florida’s capital and the White House, building momentum for new measures.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioApple under pressure to unlock Pensacola shooter's phones Senators offer bill to create alternatives to Huawei in 5G tech Surging Sanders draws fresh scrutiny ahead of debate MORE, two Republicans long seen as allies of the NRA, have both come out in support of raising the age limit on assault rifle purchases to 21.

Separately, a number of polls have shown broad support for background checks and other gun controls, underlining the sense that the Stoneman Douglas shooting might have represented a tipping point in the nation’s long debate on guns.

At the same time, it is far from clear that legislation to raise the federal age limit on gun purchases would have the necessary support to pass Congress.

The NRA is solidly opposed to that proposal, and Trump on Monday notably left it out of his comments while speaking to a group of the nation’s governors at the White House.

In comments later on Monday afternoon, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump remained supportive of the “concept” of raising the age limit but would need to see legislation on how it is implemented.

“In concept, the president still supports it, but in terms of legislation, we’d need to see what that looks like before we weigh in further,” she said.

Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns MORE (R-Pa.), who backed a bipartisan gun reform proposal after the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, appeared skeptical of raising the age limit, while a spokeswoman for Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWhat to watch for on Day 2 of Senate impeachment trial Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial Cruz: White House not expected to push motion to dismiss impeachment articles MORE (R-Texas) said he opposes the idea. 

“I believe we need more idiot control, not more gun control,” said GOP Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.), while pledging to carefully review any legislation. 

Gun rights supporters had been distancing themselves from the age proposal, and House conservatives have also expressed concern about a bill Trump supports to boost the background check system for gun purchases.

When the idea came up last year, conservatives demanded it be paired with the concealed carry reciprocity bill, contentious legislation that would effectively allow concealed weapons to be carried across the country. The proposal is a major priority for the NRA and many conservatives, but staunchly opposed by Democrats.

Several Republicans on Monday pointed to the difficulty of getting a consensus on a gun measure.

“I’m for doing what’s achievable. If we want to get bogged down again and do nothing, to me that’s unacceptable,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public Sunday shows - All eyes on Senate impeachment trial Cornyn disputes GAO report on withholding of Ukraine aid: It's 'certainly not a crime' MORE (R-Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican. “So we’re going to try to figure out a way, a path forward.”

Rep. Ryan CostelloRyan Anthony CostellloFormer GOP Rep. Costello launches lobbying shop Head of Pennsylvania GOP resigns over alleged explicit texts Lobbying world MORE (R-Pa.), who faces a tough reelection after court-ordered redistricting in Pennsylvania, supports a bipartisan background check bill but acknowledged other Republicans worry it could lead to calls for more reforms they would oppose. Costello said while he and most of his constituents “feel a certain way,” others “feel differently about this issue, given what they feel might come next.”

Rubio on Tuesday is expected to try to pass by unanimous consent the bipartisan Fix NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) Act, which would reinforce existing laws by ensuring that authorities report criminal records to the system and penalizing agencies that don’t. 

But it’s unlikely to be successful with a band of GOP senators opposed to the legislation. A spokesman for Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenators are politicians, not jurors — they should act like it Sens. Kaine, Lee: 'We should not be at war with Iran unless Congress authorizes it' Overnight Defense: War powers fight runs into impeachment | Kaine has 51 votes for Iran resolution | Trump plans to divert .2B from Pentagon to border wall MORE (R-Utah) said they have “some due process concerns” but are trying to work them out with the bill’s sponsors. 

The House passed similar legislation last December, but only after it was paired with the concealed carry reciprocity bill.

A group of 19 centrist Republicans called on Ryan to put the Fix NICS bill on the House floor, ramping up pressure on leadership to delink the measure from the concealed carry legislation.

“We should take the piece of that bill that most people agree with and pass that,” Costello said.

Cornyn said on Monday he was “pretty optimistic” the House would pass his bill if it went over as a stand-alone measure.