President Donald Trump signaled support for one piece of gun-control legislation on Monday, five days after a mass shooting at a Florida high school left 17 people dead and more than a dozen others injured.
"The president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system," Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, wrote in a statement Monday morning.
Sanders said the president spoke to Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, on Friday to express support for the bill Cornyn has introduced with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.
The bill is still being amended, the White House cautioned.
The statement did not address how the president would react to more aggressive gun control measures.
The senators' bill is narrow in focus, reinforcing the requirement that federal agencies report all criminal infractions to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and creating financial incentives for states to do so, as well.
It was introduced after the Air Force failed to report the criminal history of the gunman who slaughtered more than two dozen people at a Texas church.
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Photos by The Associated Press
Photos by The Associated Press
After the Texas shooting, Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked the FBI to conduct an extensive review of the database because, as he said in a statement at the time, "relevant information may not be getting reported."
Federal agencies are required to report various felonies, indictments and other crimes -- including domestic assaults -- to the federal database, but Congress has no power to compel states to do the same. The Murphy-Cornyn legislation would offer direct financial incentives, as well as favorable future access to other federal assistance programs, to states that report infractions into the system.
The National Rifle Association has not opposed the bill like it has more exhaustive pieces of legislation, such as banning assault-style rifles or limiting the sale of high-capacity magazines. It even said "we applaud" the Cornyn-Murphy proposal.
Murphy said Monday on Twitter that Trump's outreach is "another sign the politics of gun violence are shifting rapidly." But the senator, who is an outspoken proponent of gun control, added, "No one should pretend this bill alone is an adequate response to this epidemic."
Kristin Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the measure would help to enforce existing rules but would not close loopholes permitting loose private sales on the internet and at gun shows. She's pressing for a ban on assault-type weapons and for laws enabling family members, guardians or police to ask judges to strip gun rights temporarily from people who show warning signs of violence.
NO NEW BILLS MOVED
It's unclear whether the legislation will go forward. After the Las Vegas massacre in the fall, Republicans and Democrats in Congress talked about banning so-called bump stocks, an accessory that gunman used to transform his semi-automatic rifles to mimic automatic weapon fire. Four months later, the only gun legislation that has moved in the House or Senate instead eases restrictions for gun owners.
Trump has faced two of the country's deadliest mass shootings as president, including a gunman opening fire from his hotel room in Las Vegas in October and the shooter at the Parkland school last week. Police say 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz admitted last week that he walked into the school -- where he had been a student -- and began shooting at students and staff.
Outside the White House on Monday, dozens of teens spread their bodies across the pavement to symbolize the dead and call for stronger gun controls, a precursor to a march in Washington planned next month by survivors of the Parkland shooting and supporters of their cause.
Ella Fesler, 16-year-old high school student in Alexandria, Va., was among the students at the "lie-in" in front of the White House. She said it was time for change, adding: "Every day when I say 'bye' to my parents, I do acknowledge the fact that I could never see my parents again."
Trump, staying at his Mar-a-Lago retreat, has been speaking with people ranging from members of his resort to officials at the Broward County sheriff's office about the issue, according to two people familiar with the conversations who asked not to be identified.
Trump initially focused on mental health issues, calling the shooting suspect "mentally disturbed" and saying that he wanted to support local jurisdictions in addressing mental health issues. He said fixes in the system could prevent future crimes.
After the FBI admitted last week that it failed to investigate a warning from a person close to Cruz that he spoke about violence and might be capable of shooting up a school, Trump criticized the agency's response. He accused the bureau of being too focused on finding wrongdoing related to him and his 2016 presidential campaign to follow up on a tip.
The president has publicly said little about the victims, but he refrained from golfing, which aides said was to show respect. On Monday, Trump arrived at his golf course around 9 a.m.
"Have a great, but very reflective, Presidents' Day!" he tweeted.
In Florida, the state's Republican-controlled Legislature is preparing to consider a sweeping package of gun-control laws in a state that has resisted restrictions on firearms for years, lawmakers said Monday.
The legislative effort coalesced as 100 students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School prepared to ride buses more than 400 miles to the state capital today to urge lawmakers to act to prevent a repeat of the massacre at their school.
Cruz, the suspect, made his first appearance in court Monday. Wearing a prison jumpsuit, he kept his head down and did not appear to make eye contact with the judge or others in the courtroom, though he responded briefly to someone on the defense team. A previous appearance was by a video connection from jail.
His lawyers have said he will plead guilty if prosecutors agree not to pursue the death penalty. No decision has been made on that.
The attack seemed to overcome the resistance of some in the state's leadership, which has rebuffed gun restrictions since Republicans took control of both the governor's office and the Legislature in 1999. However, there is still strong resistance by many in the party to any gun-control measures, leaving the fate of new restrictions unclear.
Sen. Bill Galvano, a Republican and the incoming state Senate president, said the Senate was preparing a package that would include raising the age to purchase any firearm to 21, creating a waiting period for purchasing any type of firearm, banning bump stocks and creating gun-violence restraining orders.
Authorities said Cruz had a string of run-ins with school authorities that ended with his expulsion. Police were also repeatedly called to his house throughout his childhood. Cruz's lawyers said there were repeated warning signs that he was mentally unstable and potentially violent. Yet he legally purchased a semi-automatic rifle.
"We need to make sure everything is working and to learn from the experience," said Galvano, who was among a group of legislative leaders taken on a tour of the school to see the damage firsthand.
The Senate is also considering boosting spending on mental health programs for schools and giving law-enforcement greater power to involuntarily hold someone considered a danger to themselves. The body will also look at a proposal to deputize a teacher or someone else at school so they are authorized to have a gun.
Galvano said senators want to examine ways to protect schools that do not have resource officers -- often armed law enforcement officers -- on site.
State House leaders and Gov. Rick Scott also are considering possible changes to firearms rules but have not given any details. Scott planned meetings Tuesday on school safety, and said he would announce proposals on mental health issues later in the week.
Still, some Republicans questioned whether additional gun restrictions are the answer.
"I really don't want to see this politicized into a gun debate," Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley.
Democrats believe raising the age limit and creating a waiting period to buy rifles isn't enough.
"That's unacceptable. That's a joke," said Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer of Broward County. "I don't see that as a restriction."
Information for this article was contributed by Josh Dawsey and Karoun Demirjian of The Washington Post; by Catherine Lucey, Maria Danilova, Jonathan Lemire, Terry Spencer, Curt Anderson, Brendan Farrington and Gary Fineout of The Associated Press; by Sahil Kapur and Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg News; and by Katie Rogers of The New York Times.
A Section on 02/20/2018
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