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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 StiversGOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power Business groups back pandemic insurance bill modeled on post-9/11 law National Retail Federation hosts virtual 'store tours' for lawmakers amid coronavirus 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 TrumpFox News president, top anchors advised to quarantine after coronavirus exposure: report Six notable moments from Trump and Biden's '60 Minutes' interviews Biden on attacks on mental fitness: Trump thought '9/11 attack was 7/11 attack' 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 RyanMcCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments Pelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats MORE (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Trump looms over Ernst's tough reelection fight in Iowa Democratic senator votes against advancing Amy Coney Barrett nomination while wearing RBG mask MORE (R-Ky.) last week. He is set to meet with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Wednesday.

Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsPence's 'body man' among aides who tested positive for coronavirus: report Murphy says US would be 'better off' if Trump admin 'did nothing' on coronavirus Biden: Meadows coronavirus remark a 'candid acknowledgement' of Trump strategy 'to wave the white flag' 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 RubioSenate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus Bipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning Trump's new interest in water resources — why now? 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 ToomeyAppeals court rules NSA's bulk phone data collection illegal Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel GOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy 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 CruzGOP clears key hurdle on Barrett's Supreme Court nomination, setting up Monday confirmation Texas and North Carolina: Democrats on the verge? Senate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus 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 CornynDallas Morning News poll shows Biden leading Trump in Texas Biden's oil stance jars Democrats in tough races The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in 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 CostellloBottom Line Trump struggles to stay on script, frustrating GOP again Bottom line 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 LeePence adviser Marty Obst tests positive for COVID-19 Two Loeffler staffers test positive for COVID-19 End the American military presence in Somalia 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.