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Congress: No Consensus on Gun Violence 02/25 10:31

   After a 10-day break, members of Congress are returning to work under hefty 
pressure to respond to the outcry over gun violence. But no plan appears ready 
to take off despite a long list of proposals, including many from President 
Donald Trump.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- After a 10-day break, members of Congress are returning 
to work under hefty pressure to respond to the outcry over gun violence. But no 
plan appears ready to take off despite a long list of proposals, including many 
from President Donald Trump.

   Republican leaders have kept quiet for days as Trump tossed out ideas, 
including raising the minimum age to purchase assault-style weapons and arming 
teachers, though on Saturday the president tweeted that the latter was "Up to 
states."

   Their silence has left little indication whether they are ready to rally 
their ranks behind any one of the president's ideas, dust off another proposal 
or do nothing. The most likely legislative option is bolstering the federal 
background check system for gun purchases, but it's bogged down after being 
linked with a less popular measure to expand gun rights.

   The halting start reflects firm GOP opposition to any bill that would curb 
access to guns and risk antagonizing gun advocates in their party. Before the 
Feb. 14 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people, 
Republicans had no intention of reviving the polarizing and politically risky 
gun debate during an already difficult election year that could endanger their 
congressional majority.

   "There's no magic bill that's going to stop the next thing from happening 
when so many laws are already on the books that weren't being enforced, that 
were broken," said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the third-ranking House GOP 
leader, when asked about solutions. "The breakdowns that happen, this is what 
drives people nuts," said Scalise, who suffered life-threatening injuries when 
a gunman opened fire on lawmakers' baseball team practice last year.

   Under tough public questioning from shooting survivors, Trump has set high 
expectations for action.

   "I think we're going to have a great bill put forward very soon having to do 
with background checks, having to do with getting rid of certain things and 
keeping other things, and perhaps we'll do something on age," Trump said in a 
Fox News Channel interview Saturday night. He added: "We are drawing up strong 
legislation right now having to do with background checks, mental illness. I 
think you will have tremendous support. It's time. It's time."

   Trump's early ideas were met with mixed reactions from his party. His talk 
of allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons into classrooms was rejected by 
at least one Republican, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. House Speaker Paul Ryan, 
R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., both spoke to Trump 
on Friday. Their offices declined comment on the conversations or legislative 
strategy.

   Some Republicans backed up Trump's apparent endorsement of raising the age 
minimum for buying some weapons.

   Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he would support raising the age limit to buy 
a semi-automatic weapon like the one used in Florida. Rubio also supports 
lifting the age for rifle purchases. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., a longtime NRA 
member, wrote in The New York Times that he now supports an assault-weapons ban.

   Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said he expects to talk soon with Trump, who has 
said he wants tougher background checks, as Toomey revives the bill he proposed 
earlier with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to expand presale checks for firearms 
purchases online and at gun shows.

   First introduced after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 in 
Connecticut, the measure has twice been rejected by the Senate. Some Democrats 
in GOP-leaning states joined with Republicans to defeat the measure. Toomey's 
office said he is seeking to build bipartisan support after the latest shooting.

   More likely, the Senate will turn to a bipartisan bill from Sens. John 
Cornyn, R-Texas and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., to strengthen FBI background checks 
--- a response to a shooting last November in which a gunman killed more than 
two dozen people at a Texas church.

   That bill would penalize federal agencies that don't properly report 
required records and reward states that comply by providing them with federal 
grant preferences. It was drafted after the Air Force acknowledged that it 
failed to report the Texas gunman's domestic violence conviction to the 
National Criminal Information Center database.

   The House passed it last year, but only after GOP leaders added an unrelated 
measure pushed by the National Rifle Association. That measure expands gun 
rights by making it easier for gun owners to carry concealed weapons across 
state lines.

   The package also included a provision directing the federal Bureau of 
Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to review "bump-stock" devices like 
the one used during the shooting at a Las Vegas music festival that left 58 
people dead and hundreds injured.

   Murphy told The Associated Press he was invited to discuss gun issues with 
the White House and he was interested in hearing the president's ideas. He said 
he did not expect the Florida shooting to lead to a major breakthrough in 
Congress for those who've long pushed for tighter gun laws.

   "There's not going to be a turning point politically," he said. Rather, it's 
about "slowly and methodically" building a political movement.

   Senate Democrats say any attempt to combine the background checks and 
concealed-carry measures is doomed to fail.

   Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he was skeptical Trump 
would follow through on proposals such as comprehensive background checks that 
the NRA opposes.

   "The real test of President Trump and the Republican Congress is not words 
and empathy, but action," Schumer said in a statement. He noted that Trump has 
a tendency to change his mind on this and other issues, reminding that the 
president has called for tougher gun laws only to back away when confronted by 
resistance from gun owners. The NRA's independent expenditure arm poured tens 
of millions into Trump's 2016 campaign.

   "Will President Trump and the Republicans finally buck the NRA and get 
something done?" Schumer asked. "I hope this time will be different."


(KA)

 
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