Congress Returns To Washington Amid Calls To Act On Gun Control

Feb 26, 2018
Originally published on February 26, 2018 9:57 am
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Congress is back in session this week for the first time since the Parkland, Fla., shooting. They're facing public pressure to act on gun violence, thanks in part to a very vocal group of student survivors. President Trump meets today with a bipartisan group of governors on the topic of school safety. One idea the president is talking a lot about, raising the minimum age for purchasing rifles to 21. He has said, "the NRA will back it and so will Congress." That's a quote. But yesterday on ABC's "This Week," NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch clarified.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You do not want to raise the age.

DANA LOESCH: That's what the NRA came out and said. That's correct.

MARTIN: Republican Senator Pat Toomey is also unconvinced. Here he is on NBC's "Meet The Press."


PAT TOOMEY: The vast majority of 18, 19, 20, 21-year-olds are law-abiding citizens who aren't a threat to anyone. So I'm skeptical about that.

MARTIN: All right. We're joined in the studio by Scott Detrow. He covers Congress for NPR. Hey, Scott.


MARTIN: So gun control advocates are looking at this shooting and saying, this seems different, things could actually change. But is it really different?

DETROW: I think there's a lot of reasons to be skeptical of that approach. Nationally, there does seem to be more activism. We've seen polls showing big, fast shifts in public approval for passing more gun control measures. But when it comes to Congress itself, the House and Senate likely are not going to move on anything unless there's a broad consensus among Republican lawmakers, not just a handful of Republicans being open to changes. We heard from Pat Toomey just now. Pat Toomey has been one of the more high-profile Republicans open to gun control measures. He's been trying to pass background check measures in the Senate for a while now. If he's not on board with this idea of raising the age of purchase for rifles to 21, I think that's a sign that there might not be a broad Republican support for that.

MARTIN: What about bump stocks? I mean, this is something that came up after the Las Vegas shooting, and at that time there seemed to be, like, agreement between the parties that this is something that could be banned. President Trump is now saying, let's get this going, let's ban bump stocks. Where is that at right now?

DETROW: You know, I think bump stocks are really illustrative of what typically happens in Congress. There was so much attention after the Las Vegas shooting on banning bump stocks, a lot of talk in Congress that week, more and more support. And then as soon as Paul Ryan said, I think we should do something and it should be the ATF to taking a look at it, that was it. No more talk about bump stock. It moved on. So I think, you know, President Trump has renewed support for that. I think that could be - if something does happen, that could be one of the first things that happened because again, you already had that consensus. But often, initiatives like that just kind of peter out and fade away.

MARTIN: I mean, it's worth just in the big picture remembering that there was so much bipartisan support to find a fix for DACA. Like, that was the thing. Everyone was on board with fixing DACA, and even that has fallen by the wayside. So the idea of addressing gun control, which has divided this country for generations, in this moment it just makes it seem all the less tenable.

DETROW: Yeah. And DACA is a good thing to think about there because there would have been a majority in both the House and Senate for narrow portions of that, but Republican leaders Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell did not want to move forward with anything unless their full caucus was on board, and that's one reason why there hasn't been a fix for DACA.

MARTIN: What about - so the president's talking about how the real action, any change, is most likely to come from the states, which is probably realistic. What about Florida? As a state where this shooting happened and where all these students from this high school have been so vocal, have they changed any minds locally or statewide?

DETROW: I think so. Florida Governor Rick Scott really came out and went beyond what the NRA is backing on a lot of different issues. Republicans control Tallahassee just as much as they control Washington. And what's important to remember is there's only a few weeks left in Florida's legislative session. So the question of is anything going to change, I think the first place to look is Tallahassee. Do these go from proposals at press conferences to bills that the governor is going to sign in the next few weeks? If that happens, that could be a sign that this really did get shaken up a little bit, and, in some measures, could move in Congress.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Scott Detrow for us this morning. Thanks so much, Scott.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.