The talk in Washington last week was dominated by the latest school shootings in Parkland, Florida. At the start of the week it seemed clear that the Congress would do little if anything, but those plans seemed to get at least a partial jolt by the President’s cabinet room meeting on Wednesday, February 28, the same day that the Florida students returned to their classrooms.
During the televised cabinet room-based meeting the President pushed back in several instances against traditional NRA positions when the issues were raised by Congressional Republican leaders in the room. Of particular note, Mr. Trump refuted directly Congressman Steve Scalise (R-LA) suggestion that the Congress could approve the House bill, HR 38, that that would make some corrections to the current federal background checks law but would also mandate that if a person comes from a state where a concealed weapon is legal that person can travel to another city and carry a concealed weapon even if they are illegal in that jurisdiction. The President told the Congressman that that legislation, a current priority of the NRA, would fail. That was the nature of the discussion which didn’t seem to win over many Republican members.
While that was taking place, students were returning to class in Parkland, Florida for the first time since the Valentine’s Day shootings. The loss of the 17 lives in Florida has, at least for the month of March, forced a very rare debate in Congress and while leadership is blocking any real action, when students such as classmate David Hogg show up for a march on Saturday, March 24 that momentum could continue into the spring. According to the March for Our Lives website and the organization’s Facebook page, in addition to the main march in Washington DC there will be marches in nearly 100 official sites across the country.
At this point Congressional Leaders Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WS) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have made clear the issue is not a priority. If gun legislation has a chance it probably has to start in the Senate. This week the Senate will take up legislation to modify the Dodd-Frank banking reform legislation. Beyond that McConnell was non-comital on legislation.
There are at least 50 Senators now on legislation, S 2135, backed by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) that would make narrow fixes to the current background check system but many Senators are seeking more than those limited changes. Other Senators including Senators Floyd Flake (R-AZ), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have their own ideas and bills in addition to Senators including Senator Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Murphy (D-CT) who have been taking major leadership roles before the latest shooting.
It seems likely that the issue will occupy congressional debate for the rest of this winter session and quite possibly the summer before the 2018 elections. Still it will take a lot to overcome the opposition of the NRA even with a modest proposal and in fact by the end of the week, the President was once again sending mixed signals. And if to emphasize the challenge, key appropriations leaders were throwing cold water on overturning the 1996 Congressman Jay Dickey (R-AR) appropriations amendment that has blocked the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from conducting research on gun-related deaths.
A CWLA statement on the Florida shoots was released last month.