WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders on Tuesday began to draw a line against Democrats’ demand for expansive measures to address gun violence and promoted instead a narrow background check bill they hope to pass this week.
Two weeks after a young gunman with a troubled past shot and killed 17 students and adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida while its guard stayed outside, lawmakers in both parties said they feel pressure to address that and other massacres.
But they differed on how far they could go in addressing all the issues raised by the Parkland shootings — from law enforcement failures to mental health issues — and still pass a bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the Senate would take up the narrow background check bill called Fix NICS this week, without mentioning President Donald Trump or his ideas for arming teachers, hardening schools and raising ages to buy some guns.
Trump is to meet with a bipartisan group of lawmakers Wednesday, according to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and a response to the school shooting will be among the topics. “We’ll have further specific policy announcements later this week,” she said.
Congress may not have to address banning bump stocks, which a gunman used to enhance the rapid fire of his semiautomatic weapons as he killed 58 Las Vegas concert-goers in October. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday they can be banned by regulation.
The bipartisan Fix NICS bill, sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), offers financial incentives to federal and state officials to file required reports of criminal or mental issues to the FBI background check system to weed out ineligible gun buyers.
“There’s a lot of other things we can do, but the one thing we can do this week before we go home is to pass the Fix NICS bill and to send it to the House and then to the president and sign it into law,” said Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) acknowledged the Fix NICS bill has wide bipartisan support, including his own, but he said Congress needs to do more, as demanded by the public and the Parkland student survivors-turned-activists, who met with Schumer and other top lawmakers in Washington Tuesday.
“We want full debate, not just on Fix NICS, but on legislation that would really do the job,” Schumer said. Democrats want to expand the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check system to include weapons’ sales at gun shows and on the internet.
Cornyn said he was open to a debate and amendments. “Maybe we can set up a situation where they can vote on those amendments — as long as we get to an outcome that leaves us something other than empty-handed.”
Cornyn added, “What I don’t want to do is leave here this week and go back home to Texas and say we failed to do anything to try to address these tragedies.”
Yet Cornyn’s bill faces peril in the House, which passed its version of it in December but paired it with a measure requiring states to recognize other states’ permits that allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons, a proposal Democrats strongly oppose.
House Republicans are expected to insist that the two measures remain together.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) urged the Senate to pass the Fix NICS bill but did not address the concealed-carry measure.
Asked whether the House would pass Fix NICS without the concealed-carry measure, Ryan took a pass. “We’re waiting to see what the Senate can do,” Ryan said, “and then we’ll address that then.”