- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The House will take the first concrete steps Wednesday to respond to last month’s Florida school shooting, voting on a bill to cajole local school systems into formulating risk assessments and safety plans.

But it’s far from the major gun debate demanded by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, gun control activists and congressional Democrats, who say that while the nudge to schools is welcome, Congress should be stiffening background checks and tightening rules on who can buy guns.

“We should pass it, but it is a tiny baby step that can help,” said Rep. Ted Deutch, Florida Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, who pointed out the legislation had been written even before last month’s massacre.

Wednesday marks one month since the shooting, and GOP leaders have no firm plans for a broader debate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he’d like to see the school safety legislation pass, as well as another bill that would press federal agencies to make sure they’re reporting all of their records of banned buyers to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

But he gave no date for a floor debate, and instead listed a packed non-gun schedule that will occupy the Senate’s time until its two-week spring vacation.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat and a top gun-control advocate, said he and his allies will keep pushing for floor action.

“Our colleagues who fail to support common-sense action will hear one word as a remedy: elections,” he said on a conference call hosted by the group Everytown for Gun Safety.

He said lawmakers are banking on sustained energy they’ve been seeing from activists and in state capitals to keep the pressure on in the coming months.

Advocacy groups are organizing a national walk-out for students at 10 a.m. Wednesday to commemorate the 17 Parkland victims and to try to keep the pressure on lawmakers.

On Tuesday, activists also laid 7,000 shoes on the lawn outside the Capitol building, saying they represent the number of children who have died because of guns since the December 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting.

And on Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing to examine the circumstances surrounding the Parkland shooting and potential legislative responses.

Authorities say that law enforcement had received warnings that 19-year-old suspect Nikolas Cruz had a gun and wanted to shoot up a school. He is charged with killing 17 students and educators at his former high school.

Hoping to stop similar breakdowns in the future, some lawmakers have proposed legislation allowing family members or law enforcement to petition to block people from getting a gun if they show clear danger-warning signs.

The bill facing a House vote Wednesday allots $50 million in annual grants to local schools to help them develop threat assessment and disaster response plans and to train teachers to identify warning signs of people who might be a threat to themselves or others.

The White House says President Trump supports the framework of the bill as part of the school safety package he rolled out earlier this week.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch is sponsoring a similar measure in the Senate, and that bill has attracted more than 30 co-sponsors, including Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson.

“We just want to get it done,” Mr. Rubio said. “We want to be able to show progress and build momentum to keep going and do other things.”

“It’s not the end of the debate, obviously,” he said. “But I think you got to take one step before you take the second one.”

Mr. Hatch, Mr. Rubio and other Senate supporters appeared at a news conference near the Capitol on Tuesday with Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina Petty was killed in last month’s shooting; Patrick Petty, Alaina’s brother; and Kyle Kashuv, a student who survived the attack.

“I wish we had had the Stop Violence Act a month ago,” Ryan Petty said. “I imagine how different [the] 17 families who lost loved ones that day would be feeling right now.”

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