Gun protests sweep nation as House passes school safety bill

The House passed a school safety bill on Wednesday that does not contain any new gun measures as thousands of students walked out of classrooms across the country to protest gun violence and demand tougher gun laws.

The school safety legislation, which passed the House one month after the deadly mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., steers clear of the demands of gun control advocates.

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The juxtaposition between the calls for action and the steps from Congress highlights the difficulty of enacting tougher gun restrictions in the face of opposition from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the group’s allies.

“Today, young people are taking a stand and calling on this Congress to do something about the scourge of gun violence. … This bill fails to do so,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), referring to the school safety measure. “It cannot be our only response to these demands.”

“You are faced with a simple choice, Mr. Speaker: Will you stand with these young people who are demanding action, or will you stand with the NRA?”

Students who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have emerged as powerful voices in the politically charged gun debate, sparking a nationwide “Never Again” movement that appears to be having an effect on public opinion.

On Wednesday, hundreds of students from the D.C. area gathered for a rally on the lawn in front of the Capitol just before noon, where they were joined by dozens of Democratic lawmakers. The rally was part of a broader national protest in which students walked out of schools across the country to demand tougher gun laws and honor the 17 students and faculty members who were slain in the Parkland shooting.

The students gathered near the National Mall carried signs that read “No More,” “We call B.S.” and “Protect Kids.” Some spoke of classmates affected by gun violence and urged lawmakers to act.

As Democrats made their way to the podium, students roared at the sight of familiar faces like Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders apologizes to Biden for supporter's op-ed Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive Former health insurance executive: Current system is bankrupting country MORE (I-Vt.), Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats: McConnell impeachment trial rules a 'cover up,' 'national disgrace' Iran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner Parnas pressure grows on Senate GOP MORE (D-Conn.), House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWhite House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team House revives agenda after impeachment storm Democrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public MORE (D-Calif.) and civil rights icon Rep. John LewisJohn LewisObama marks MLK Day by honoring King for his 'poetic brilliance' and 'moral clarity' The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial John Lewis to miss Martin Luther King Jr. Day event MORE (D-Ga.).

The group cheered for calls for stricter gun laws and responded with particular fervor to any criticisms of the NRA.

“We are very proud of what you are doing,” Sanders said, speaking into a megaphone. “All across the country people are sick and tired of gun violence, and the time is now for all of us together to stand up to the NRA and to pass commonsense gun legislation.”

But as students rallied on the Capitol lawn, GOP leaders inside the building moved in a different direction.

Republicans have focused their response on enhancing school safety and investigating why law enforcement missed repeated warning signs about the Parkland suspect.

They have also touted a narrow background check bill that the House already passed in December, as well as a recently enacted law strengthening support for people with mental illness.

“We believe that the best focus can be on stopping people who should not get guns from getting any kind of gun, period,” 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.) said Wednesday. “We sent legislation to the Senate in December. Hopefully, the Senate can act on that legislation. In the meantime, we believe that we can make great progress on the STOP School Violence Act, which we’re passing today.”

The House voted 407-10 to approve a school safety bill from Rep. John RutherfordJohn Henry RutherfordEd Markey, John Rutherford among victors at charity pumpkin-carving contest 'Mass shooting' at Florida video game tournament: authorities Carter, Yoder advance in appropriations committee leadership reshuffle MORE (R-Fla.), a former sheriff.

The STOP (Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing) School Violence Act would provide $50 million a year for a new federal grant program to train students, teachers and law enforcement on how to spot and report signs of gun violence.

It also would develop anonymous telephone and online systems where people could report threats of violence, and authorizes $25 million for schools to beef up security in ways such as installing new locks, metal detectors and panic buttons.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchKey Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock Trump awards Medal of Freedom to racing industry icon Roger Penske Trump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals MORE (R-Utah) has a companion bill in the Senate that has also attracted wide bipartisan support. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats: McConnell impeachment trial rules a 'cover up,' 'national disgrace' Romney pledges 'open mind' ahead of impeachment trial McConnell proposes compressed schedule for impeachment trial MORE (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that he is “extremely interested” in passing a school safety bill along with a narrow background check bill, but he is still trying to figure out a path forward.

While House Democrats overwhelmingly supported the school safety measure, they say the measure falls far short of what is needed. They also say it does little to address the potential for mass shootings in other public places.

“This is a good bill,” said Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchBipartisan lawmakers condemn Iran, dispute State Department on number of protesters killed Bipartisan lawmakers introduce amendment affirming US commitment to military aid to Israel Ethics sends memo to lawmakers on SCIF etiquette MORE (D-Fla.), whose district includes Stoneman Douglas.

But, he added, “it will not solve our gun problem. It won’t ban bump stocks, or fix our background system, or get weapons of war off our streets.”

Republicans insisted that the legislation is only the beginning of their response to the shooting.

“I’m not saying it’s enough,” said Rep. Susan BrooksSusan Wiant BrooksThe rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2019 Hispanic Democrats endorse Latina for open Indiana seat Trump shocks, earns GOP rebukes with Dingell remarks MORE (R-Ind.). “We know this bill is one important step.”

Across the Capitol, the Senate Judiciary Committee met Wednesday to discuss school safety and legislative proposals for gun control. Protesters from Code Pink and Moms Demand Action filled the hearing room seats reserved for the public and regularly erupted into applause when Democrats on the committee called for action on guns.

“I don’t know what we’re waiting for,” Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisDemocrats: McConnell impeachment trial rules a 'cover up,' 'national disgrace' Parnas pressure grows on Senate GOP Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change MORE (D-Calif.) said.

“We don’t need any more tragedies. We’ve seen some of the most tragic incidents that one can imagine and we don’t need any new ideas. We’ve got great ideas. What we need is for the United States Congress to have the courage to act.”

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinRoberts under pressure from both sides in witness fight Senate opens Trump impeachment trial Democrats ask if US citizens were detained at border checkpoints due to Iranian national origin MORE (Calif.), advocated for her proposed ban on military-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

But 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 (R-Fla.) and other Republicans on the committee stressed the need to focus on areas where lawmakers agree.

“Out of tragedy and out of heartbreak, the families of the 17 victims in Parkland came together and they decided that they would set aside their differences … so they could fight hard on the things they can agree on. I think that should serve as an example to this body,” he said.

“There are things we agree on. We should pass those things.”

Brett Samuels contributed to his report.