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Published: Saturday, February 24, 2018 @ 4:11 AM
In the wake of the recent mass shooting at a Florida high school, President Donald Trump on Saturday signaled again that he wants changes in background checks for those people who are buying firearms, as he emphasized his call for Congress to make a series of reforms to gun-related laws, also urging state and local officials to do more to toughen security at their schools.
"Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue - I hope!," the President tweeted.
White House officials said Mr. Trump would again press his call for action on issues of school safety in coming days as he meets with the nation's Governors, many of whom will be in Washington, D.C. for their yearly legislative conference.
But the question remains - what will the Congress do? Or what can Congress do?
1. Some details still murky on what the President wants to do. While the President has a ready list of items on which he is asking for action in the Congress, the exact details will determine how the Congress reacts. For example, Mr. Trump has repeatedly said he wants 'comprehensive background checks with an emphasis on mental health' - how that is structured is an extremely important point. While it may sound completely logical that someone who has mental issues should not be able to buy weapons, those details are not easily fleshed out. While he has talked repeatedly about background checks, the President has never addressed the issue of private gun sales - what is sometimes referred to as the 'gun show loophole' - which is something members in both parties have talked about dealing with for several years. At a Friday news conference with the Prime Minister of Australia, here's how the President set out what he wants accomplished:
2. The push for the "Fix NICS" bill. Even before the Florida school shooting, there was a bipartisan effort to make some changes to ensure that more information is funneled into the background check system for gun buyers, whether it's on mental health, or military charges which would disqualify someone who wants to buy a firearm. The House already passed the "Fix NICS" bill - but it was combined with another measure that approved a national "Concealed Carry" effort, which would allow anyone with a legal permit to carry a concealed weapon to do that in any state - even if that state has different laws and regulations governing such conduct. While that combination was approved by the House, it seems doomed in the Senate, and it is one reason that some lawmakers are now pressing for action on just the "Fix NICS" plan, which the President has endorsed.
3. How much would the Congress really do under Trump's plans? This is a question that's up for debate. Think of the President's call for certain teachers or administrators to carry concealed weapons at schools - that seems more of a state and local matter than something which would be legislated by the Congress. Increasing security measures at schools - the Congress could deliver aid, but the idea of approving new spending is not exactly a popular item with some Republicans right now in the House and Senate. Changing the age of purchase for certain weapons like an AR-15 might sound attractive to some, but that is guaranteed to be controversial as well in Congress - especially when states might be able to take that same step on their own. The "gun violence restraining order" is another idea that's popped up as a way to keep the mentally ill from access to firearms - but is that better done by state legislatures instead of the Congress?
4. There has been some movement in Congress - but not much. Yes, we have examples of members of Congress who have changed their position on certain gun issues, but by no means has there been an upheaval on Capitol Hill in the wake of the Florida school shooting, just like there was no major change after past school shootings. Yes, the President has talked to House and Senate leaders about the gun issue - but don't expect gun legislation to be on the floor next week or anything. Here is one GOP lawmaker who said he wants to revisit that ban - but that's just one.
5. The outlook for the short-term - more of the same. While the Florida school shooting has energized younger Americans and their call for action, there is no sense that Republicans are about to dramatically change course on guns. As someone who has covered the gun debates since the 1980's in Congress, the House and Senate right now have large majorities in favor of gun rights - and it has been that way since Democrats pushed through the Brady law and an assault weapons ban back in the early 1990's. Change could always happen - but as of now, it's hard to see that occurring in 2018.