Students bash Congress for inaction on gun control

Students bash Congress for inaction on gun control
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Hundreds of students gathered on Capitol Hill Friday to argue for gun control ahead of a Saturday march expected to bring hundreds of thousands to Washington, D.C.

Flanked by a handful of Democratic lawmakers, including former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), the young advocates accused Congress of bowing to the wishes of the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) at the expense of school safety.

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“Students are stepping up to the NRA because our elected officials are afraid to,” Antiqua Flint, a 15-year-old high school student from North Minneapolis, Minn., said during a press briefing in front of the Capitol.

“The solution to violence is not more guns. We need to pass sensible laws to keep guns out of dangerous hands.”

The briefing marked an introduction of sorts to Saturday’s March for Our Lives demonstration. The student-driven event was sparked by last month’s mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., where a gunman killed 17 people. 

Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchCongress won't get Mueller report until after Barr press conference Deutch in fiery address rips GOP over seeking to make Israel 'wedge issue' House ignores Trump veto threat, approves bill ending US support for Yemen war MORE, a Democrat who represents Parkland, said the student survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School “have energized the nation,” launching a new movement that could mark a “sea change” in the decades-old debate over gun reform. 

“We knew that it would be different,” he said. "Students decided that they weren’t going to simply allow this tragedy to become another statistic in a long line of horrific tragedies or horrific acts of gun violence.”

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSanders announces first endorsements in South Carolina Telehealth is calling — will Congress pick up? 2020 Dems call on Mueller to testify about redacted report MORE (D-Minn.) offered another explanation for why the student protests could represent a tipping point in the debate. 

“When kids ask,” she said, “it’s harder to say no.” 

Congress this week passed a massive government spending bill that includes several provisions designed to tackle the nation’s gun-violence epidemic, particularly school shootings. One aims to strengthen — but not expand — the federal background check system for gun purchases. Another provides grants to school districts to help identify and counsel students with behavioral problems that might accelerate into violence. A third empowers federal researchers to study gun violence as a public health issue. 

All told, the reforms mark the most drastic changes to the nation’s gun laws since 2007, when Congress stepped in to bolster background checks after the mass shooting at Virginia Tech the same year.

The provisions do nothing, however, to restrict gun sales or ownership.

“There’s a long way to go,” said Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonTrump administration renews interest in Florida offshore drilling: report Dem reps say they were denied access to immigrant detention center Ex-House Intel chair: Intel panel is wrong forum to investigate Trump's finances MORE (D-Fla.). “That’s what these students are here for.”

Among a host of additional measures, the Democrats are pushing hard for votes on bills to expand background checks to all gun sales, ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, raise the gun-buying age to 21, and prohibit the sale of bump stocks, devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to fire at an drastically increased rate.

“Congress did more yesterday than they’ve done in recent memory, and they did it because of these students,” said Deutch, referring to the omnibus funding bill. “But if the Speaker and the majority leader really want to honor the memories and the lives tragically lost at Stoneman Douglas … they will do what is necessary to stand up to the gun lobby and stand up for the families and for these kids.”

GOP leaders have shown no appetite to consider legislation that would put new limits on guns. Following the Parkland shooting, they warned against eroding Second Amendment rights, focusing instead on strengthening the mental health-care system.

“We shouldn’t be banning guns from law-abiding citizens,” Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday Paul Ryan joins University of Notre Dame faculty MORE (R-Wis.) said after the tragedy.

Saturday’s march is designed to challenge that sentiment head on. And the students are vowing that their grass-roots movement — fueled by social media and the unique prowess of a younger generation to tap its organizing powers — is just getting started.

“To you, the politicians in Washington, for not hearing our cries for justice, enough is enough,” said Demitri Hoth, a senior at Stoneman Douglas, said Friday at the Capitol. “We are your future. Why won’t you protect us?”

Giffords, who launched her own gun control group after she was nearly killed in a mass shooting at a constituent event in Tucson in 2011, did not speak at Friday’s briefing. But her husband, Mark Kelly, a former NASA astronaut, predicted that the groundswell of support for tougher gun laws, fueled by the student activists, is poised to alter the electoral landscape in ways that will make reforms inevitable.

“They’re not going to be students very long, they’re going to be voters. … And that is what is going to really make the difference,” he said. 

“This election in November could turn out to be a referendum on what Congress, collectively, has not done on this issue for so many years,” Kelly added. “And when that happens, you’re going to see some real change.”