When Congress left town after the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a gun control movement led by Broward County students hadn’t yet captured the nation’s attention.
But lawmakers are now back in Washington after a 10-day break, and they’re under pressure to do something from media-savvy students who have so far forced the Florida legislature to offer a $500 million school safety package and driven President Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio to change their stance on some gun policies.
But moving forward in a Republican-controlled Congress will be a tall order, and voting on any piece of legislation in the House of Representatives this week will be tougher since Republican leadership canceled votes on Wednesday and Thursday to honor the late Rev. Billy Graham, who will lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda for two days.
Plus, House leaders argue that they’ve already passed legislation related to mental health funding, tweaking the reporting process by federal and state authorities to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and bump stocks.
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“The House has acted and leaders believe it’s the Senate’s turn to act,” a senior Republican House aide said.
The measure that tweaks the background check system, which has wide support from Democrats and Republicans, and directs the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to review bump stocks was attached to a bill that also allows concealed carry permits obtained in one state to be valid in another state, essentially transforming concealed carry permits into transferable documents like driver’s licenses. Democrats generally oppose expanding concealed carry permits across state lines, so they mostly opposed the bill even though it contained something they liked.
The legislative maneuvering on any bill related to guns decreases the chances of something becoming law, and there isn’t any gun bill up for a vote in the House this week, according to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s calendar.
A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said there aren’t any plans now to fast-track gun-related bills in the upper chamber.
Some Republicans, including Trump, have called on barring anyone under 21 from purchasing a rifle or handgun after the shooter in Parkland legally obtained an AR-15 rifle after he turned 18. Boca Raton Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch plans to introduce legislation that would raise the minimum age for purchasing firearms in the House while Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., plans to do the same in the Senate. But the idea faces resistance from Republicans who represent rural areas with lots of gun owners.
Then there’s also a revival of the assault weapons ban, a law passed in 1994 that expired in 2004. That law made guns such as the AR-15 and others illegal, but isn’t likely to pass a Republican-controlled Congress. Feinstein plans to push the measure in the Senate and Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., plans to reintroduce the ban in the House, but it’s unlikely either bill will receive much Republican support.
Other pieces of legislation, such as a measure that would tweak the background check reporting system and ban bump stocks, have widespread support from both parties. Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo introduced a bump stock ban after the Las Vegas concert shooting, but it never came up for a vote.
“In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, my colleagues and I took steps to safeguard Americans by introducing legislation that would ban bump stocks,” Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “Lamentably, Congress took no action to ban bump stocks.”
Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring and is generally one of the more moderate members of the House Republican caucus, also expressed dismay that Congress hasn’t taken action on a host of other bills related to guns, including banning the sale of firearms to people on the no-fly list and allowing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct federally-funded research into gun violence.
Parkland students say inaction from lawmakers won’t be tolerated.
“Kids are not going to accept this,” Parkland student David Hogg said on ABC’s This Week. “As many critics of my generation will say, Millennials are some of the laziest, like, most critical people. I don't think that they're lazy, but I think we're definitely critical, especially on social media. Columbine was about 19 years ago, and now that you've had an entire generation of kids growing up around mass shootings and the fact that they are able, they're starting to be able, to vote explains how we're going to have this change.”