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 SandersGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Keystone XL Pipeline gets nod from Nebraska Supreme Court MORE (I-Vt.), Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyMurphy: Chance of deal on gun background checks bill 'less than 50-50' Murphy says White House still interested in improving background checks Hobbled NRA shows strength with Trump MORE (D-Conn.), House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMoulton drops out of presidential race after struggling to gain traction Conservatives push Trump tariff relief over payroll tax cuts Democrats press FBI, DHS on response to white supremacist violence MORE (D-Calif.) and civil rights icon Rep. John LewisJohn LewisCummings invites Trump to visit Baltimore House Democrat knocks Trump's Cummings tweet: 'This guy is a terrible, terrible human being' George Wallace's daughter: 'I saw Daddy a lot' during 2016 election 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 RyanUSCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Soaring deficits could put Trump in a corner if there's a recession Paul Ryan moving family to Washington 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 Rutherford'Mass shooting' at Florida video game tournament: authorities Carter, Yoder advance in appropriations committee leadership reshuffle Senators introduce measure floating years of prison for those who injure cops 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 HatchTrump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist, former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators 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 press FBI, DHS on response to white supremacist violence The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democratic field narrows with Inslee exit McConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster 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 DeutchHobbled NRA shows strength with Trump House Democrats urge Trump to end deportations of Iraqis after diabetic man's death House conservatives call for ethics probe into Joaquin Castro tweet 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 BrooksHouse Democrats target 2020 GOP incumbents in new ad The House Republicans and Democrats not seeking reelection in 2020 Mellman: Is the DCCC in successful chaos? 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 HarrisGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Gabbard, Steyer inch toward making third Democratic debate 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 FeinsteinTrailer shows first look at Annette Bening as Dianne Feinstein Trump administration urges Congress to reauthorize NSA surveillance program The Hill's Morning Report - More talk on guns; many questions on Epstein's death MORE (Calif.), advocated for her proposed ban on military-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

But Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads What the gun safety debate says about Washington Trump moves forward with F-16 sale to Taiwan opposed by China 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.