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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 RyanBiden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Inauguration Day Revising the pardon power — let the Speaker and Congress have voices 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 FeinsteinHillicon Valley: Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says | Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian hack on DOJ, courts | Airbnb offers Biden administration help with vaccine distribution Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian cyberattack on Justice Department, Courts Schumer becomes new Senate majority leader MORE (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchHouse Democrats introduce measures to oppose Trump's bomb sale to Saudis House Judiciary Democrats ask Pence to invoke 25th Amendment to remove Trump This week: Congress poised to buy more time on spending, coronavirus talks MORE (D-Fla.) that would ban assault weapons.

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“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 TrumpMore than two-thirds of Americans approve of Biden's coronavirus response: poll Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor Mexico's president tests positive for COVID-19 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 CollinsPresidential pardons need to go Trump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon Pardon talk intensifies as Trump approaches final 24 hours in office 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 McConnellBiden attends first church service as president in DC, stops at local bagel shop Harry Reid 'not particularly optimistic' Biden will push to eliminate filibuster Senators spar over validity of Trump impeachment trial 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 BartonBiden's gain is Democratic baseball's loss with Cedric Richmond Bottom line Lobbying world 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 MastTapper battles GOP lawmakers over criticism of Afghan vet's Electoral College vote Republican war veteran gives Guard troops a tour of the Capitol LIVE COVERAGE: House votes to impeach Trump after Capitol insurrection 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 WilliamsREAD: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results Trump Georgia call divides House GOP Biden endorses Texas Democratic House candidate Julie Oliver 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 GrangerHere are the House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump Growing number of lawmakers test positive for COVID-19 after Capitol siege Overnight Health Care: US sets record for daily COVID-19 deaths with over 3,800 | Hospitals say vaccinations should be moving faster | Brazilian health officials say Chinese COVID vaccine 78 percent effective MORE (R-Texas) is drafting legislation that would encourage local school districts to buy and install metal detectors.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Inauguration Day Trump leaves White House, promises to be back in 'some form' LIVE INAUGURATION COVERAGE: Biden signs executive orders; press secretary holds first briefing 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 RutherfordREAD: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results Florida judge resigns from vote-counting board following report on Trump donations Florida judge involved in vote-counting donated to Trump multiple times: report MORE (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.