Gun control: consensus far off as Trump prepares to meet lawmakers

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Despite a new sense of urgency over guns after Floridas school shooting, Congress remains divided over practical solutions

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill agree that the demand for action in the wake of the school massacre in Parkland, Florida, earlier this month, has shifted the debate around gun control in this country. What they still arent any closer to agreeing on is what to do about it.

I think were in new territory, said Senator Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who is working on legislation to raise the age from 18 to 21 to purchase certain types of semi-automatic rifles. Its definitely different this time I hope.

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But even against the backdrop of a fiery grassroots movement, led by student survivors of the Parkland shooting, and a surge in public support for legislative action, the prospects for breaking decades of gridlock on one of the most politically contentious issues in Washington remain grim.

I dont think we need more gun control. I think we need better idiot control, said Senator John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, who is wary of even modest reforms.

The renewed debate over gun laws comes after Donald Trump urged Congress to take action following the murder of 17 students and faculty members at a Florida high school on Valentines Day.

The president has suggested he would be open to strengthening background checks and threw his support behind a ban on bump stocks, a device that in effect converts semi-automatic guns into automatic weapons and was used by a gunman last year when he killed dozens of people at a country music concert in Las Vegas.

On Wednesday, Trump plans to host a bipartisan group of lawmakers at the White House to discuss legislative alternatives.

Republicans in the US Senate, along with a handful of Democrats, blocked a bill in 2013 that would have implemented universal background checks in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. A series of mass shootings in the subsequent years was similarly met with a resounding silence.

In the Senate, a growing number of Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress, are coalescing around a modest background checks bill, known as Fix Nics. The bill, co-sponsored by John Cornyn, the Senates second-ranking Republican, and Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut and leading advocate for stricter gun laws, would strengthen reporting and information sharing in the existing background checks system. The bill, however, does not address loopholes for private sales, family transfers and purchases at gun shows.

If we were to only debate the Fix Nics, we would be slamming the door in the face of all of these kids who are demanding change, Murphy, the bills Democratic co-sponsor, told reporters. Lets be clear. The American public has hit a turning point. They are not going to accept incremental change.

Although Fix Nics is far more narrow in its scope than the universal background checks bill that was debated after Sandy Hook, it has already run into familiar obstacles calling into question whether Congress is capable of passing any gun safety measures.

Democrats have complained the bill is more symbolic than substantive, and have suggested that they could block the bill if Republicans refuse to allow debate on a broader set of gun safety measures, that would include legislation requiring background checks for virtually all gun sales.

Rather than just passing one narrow bill and moving on, we Democrats intend to push our Republican colleagues to have a real debate on gun safety, Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, told reporters during a weekly press conference, just hours after a meeting with student survivors of the Parkland shooting.

Speaking before Schumer, Cornyn said he was open to a structured debate on gun control as long as we get to an outcome that leaves us something other than empty-handed. He emphasized the push by Republicans to pass the modest bipartisan bill before the weekend.

Conservatives in the House of Representatives are meanwhile demanding that the Fix Nics bill be paired with controversial concealed carry legislation that loosens gun restrictions by enabling gun owners with concealed-carry permits in their states to take their firearms across state lines.

The House speaker, Paul Ryan, declined to say on Tuesday if he would be willing to decouple the two bills. Though a bill that combines the two measures would probably fail in the Senate.

Well over half of House Democrats have signed on to legislation that would restore the expired assault weapons ban. The legislation, introduced by the Democratic congressmen David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Ted Deutch of Florida, would ban the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, which is increasingly used to carry out mass shootings, including the Parkland massacre.

However, there is little chance the legislation would be brought to a vote in the Republican-controlled House. And on Tuesday, Ryan said as much.

We shouldnt be banning guns for law-abiding citizens, he told reporters.

This is a passionate issue for the president, Meadows said. In personal conversations with him I would characterize his willingness and desire to get something done is unequal to anything Ive seen since hes been president. He wants us to act today and is not going to be very receptive to long delays and excuses.

Mark Meadows, the chairman of the influential House Freedom Caucus and an ally of the president, said the conservative group has been working in close coordination with the White House on a series of fresh proposals that would address safety on school campuses.

But conservatives remain opposed to any legislative effort to impose new restrictions on the right to bear arms would be a nonstarter for his caucus a view he said has been conveyed directly to the president.

When you think about the Trump voter, a lot of that is represented in the Freedom Caucus, Meadows said.

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