- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2018

Some states have rushed to enact stricter gun laws in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school massacre, but Congress is still in pre-debate mode, with plenty of proposals attracting bipartisan support but no firm commitments from Republican leaders to bring any major gun bills to the floor.

House leaders have scheduled a vote next week on a modest bill to send taxpayer money to schools to conduct risk and safety assessments, but it falls far short of what many Americans had demanded — and what states such as Oregon and Florida have done — after the Valentine’s Day shooting.

“It’s just the nature of the place,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican.

“This Congress, with 500-something members, represents a vast and diverse country, and as a result there are people in different parts of the country that have different views on these issues,” he said.

His home state, where the shooting happened, has pushed the furthest. The Legislature approved a bill this week to raise the age limit for rifle purchases to 21, impose a minimum three-day waiting period for most gun purchases and allow some school faculty to carry weapons as a deterrence.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, signed into law this week a measure banning domestic abusers or people with restraining orders from having guns.

More than 20 states are considering legislation similar to Oregon’s, as well as other measures that would allow for protective risk orders and strengthen gun-purchase background checks, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Many of those ideas are floating on Capitol Hill and have even garnered bipartisan support. But as Congress prepares to enter its fourth week after the shooting, there is no sense of a time frame for action.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said he is tired of telling people back home that they just can’t do anything, but he acknowledged that he didn’t know the Senate floor schedule of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

“I’m not going to go into my election saying I didn’t do something,” Mr. Graham said. “To the politicians who believe that you’re going to be rewarded for punting on this, I think you’re making a huge mistake.”

Mr. Graham and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, rolled out a proposal Thursday that would allow family members and law enforcement officials to petition for court orders to block potentially dangerous people from obtaining guns.

Nikolas Cruz, the man authorities accuse of killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month, had shown warning signs that he intended to hurt people.

Mr. Cruz, 19, legally purchased the AR-15-style rifle used to carry out the attack. His age has become a major focus.

Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, is pushing a bill with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, to increase the federally imposed minimum age to buy certain semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21.

Mr. Flake is also part of a bipartisan group pushing a bill that would bar people on government watch or “no fly” lists from obtaining guns.

Mr. Rubio and Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, have offered a bill to push states to craft laws that would allow family members or law enforcement to petition to suspend someone’s gun rights. The law would make it a federal crime for someone under a gun violence protection order from buying or possessing a firearm.

Mr. Rubio and Mr. Nelson, along with Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, and Sen. Christopher A. Coons, Delaware Democrat, also introduced a bill to inform states when one of their residents attempts to illegally purchase a gun. The hope is that states would take some of the burden off the federal government, which rarely prosecutes those cases.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, is leading a bill with broad bipartisan support that would push to get more records into the instant background check system.

It’s unclear whether any of these proposals will reach the Senate floor.

Mr. Cornyn said Thursday that Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, was holding up an agreement for a debate on the bill for background check records.

“I don’t think the minority leader opposes the bill. He actually is a co-sponsor of it. But he’s in a bind. He is being pressured by a handful of those in his conference who say, ‘Well, this is not sufficient,’” Mr. Cornyn said.

Mr. Schumer’s office said the problem wasn’t the New York Democrat, but rather Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, who has raised due process concerns about the legislation and recently blocked Mr. Cornyn from fast-tracking the measure.

In the House, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said Thursday that leaders plan to vote next week on a measure from Rep. John H. Rutherford, Florida Republican, that would allot $50 million in annual grants for schools to beef up their safety and emergency response programs.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said Democrats will likely support Mr. Rutherford’s bill, but he chided Republicans for not pushing a more expansive response to the Feb. 14 shooting.

“They’re not taking the tough issues head on,” Mr. Hoyer said. “They’re hiding from the NRA.”

Mr. Hoyer said House Republicans should take up a version of Mr. Cornyn’s bill.

Mr. McCarthy countered that the House passed that plan as part of a broader bill that also expanded concealed carry rights. Democrats opposed that legislation.

“I’m not one to do something politically just so somebody else feels better that now they [can] vote for something [because] they voted against it before,” Mr. McCarthy said.

House conservatives say they have a commitment from Speaker Paul D. Ryan that Republican leaders wouldn’t try to move the background records bill without the concealed carry language.

Mr. Graham said President Trump needs to take control of the debate.

“I think the president’s key here,” Mr. Graham said. “I think the president’s got to tell us what he wants, urge the majority leader and the speaker of the House to take up an agenda.”

The president held a meeting with video game executives at the White House on Thursday in an effort to bring some of the potential cultural motives of mass shooters into the conversation.

He said earlier in the day that background check legislation is progressing in Congress but pointed to Florida as evidence that states are moving more rapidly.

“At the state level, a lot of states are doing things that go along with the federal government,” he said. “Some tremendous legislation is happening with states, and having to do with school safety.”


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