Republican leaders rebuffed calls for major changes to US gun laws Tuesday following the mass shooting at a Florida high school, as students braced for their emotional return to the campus where 14 classmates and three staff were murdered.
Student survivors of Valentine’s Day assault met with members of Congress to urge curbs on firearm sales but found little enthusiasm for legislative action beyond closing gaps in a national background check system.
President Donald Trump has called for stronger background checks in the wake of the shooting, and the White House said he “still supports” raising the minimum age from 18 to 21 for some gun purchases, a policy opposed by the National Rifle Association, America’s powerful gun lobby group.
Democrats hailed the students as an inspiration. But even with polls showing overwhelming public support for stricter gun laws, it would be a steep climb to achieve dramatic changes to gun laws in a Republican-dominated Congress.
Turning to the specifics of the Florida tragedy, Republicans put the blame on a “colossal breakdown” of law enforcement rather than the easy availability of assault rifles.
“Let me just say we shouldn’t be banning guns for law-abiding citizens, we should be focusing on making sure citizens who should not get guns in the first place don’t get those guns,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters.
Ryan and other Republican leaders until now have largely been absent from the debate that has raged since the assault in Parkland, Florida, by a troubled 19-year-old armed with a semi-automatic rifle.
The speaker met with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, describing them afterwards as “smart and passionate” and saying that “we had an important discussion about how to keep our kids and our schools safe.”
But in his remarks to reporters, he blamed the rampage on the failure of local authorities to heed numerous warnings about the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, a former student at the school, rather than lax US gun laws that have been sharply criticized by some survivors.