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Congress is chewing over several gun proposals. What’s really possible?

Students-turned-activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were in the halls of Congress on Tuesday to press for more gun control. Senate Republicans pointed to a bill that would push more agencies to work with the background check system. But Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer says that doesn't go far enough. Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff for more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's been almost two weeks since a gunman shot 17 people to death at a high school in Parkland, Florida, and wounded 14 more.

    Now Congress is grappling with the question of what to do about the easy availability of guns. The answer is anything but clear.

    Our Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Today, walking the halls of Congress, students turned activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, pressing for more gun control. Their supporters, including Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch, who represents them, say it's past time to listen.

  • Rep.Ted Deutch:

    They're tired of people telling them that this is hard. What's hard for them is what they're dealing with, which is the loss of 17 members of their family. Things that everyone knows can be done that aren't controversial, we have to stop viewing them as controversial and take action right now.

    There's no logjam around. The only logjam is that the speaker won't bring them to the floor for a vote.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    At his news conference, House Speaker Paul Ryan pointed to a bill his chamber already passed to strengthen current background checks. He was asked how he responds to protesters in Florida and across the country who say Congress must do more.

  • Rep. Paul Ryan:

    This speaks to bigger questions of our culture. What are we teaching kids? Look at the violence in our culture. Of course we want to listen to these kids, but we also want to make sure that we protect people's due process rights and legal constitutional rights.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who survived a shooting last year thanks to armed law enforcement, pointed at failures in Parkland, Florida.

  • Rep. Steve Scalise:

    What about the laws that are already on the books that were not enforced, that were not properly implemented?

    I think what angers me the most is when I see breakdowns with law enforcement. The FBI had this guy's name on a silver platter.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    On the Senate side, Republicans echoed Speaker Ryan, pointing to the so-called Fix NICS bill to push more agencies to work with the NICS, or National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

    Texas Republican John Cornyn-

  • Sen. John Cornyn:

    If our attitude is, I want everything on my list or nothing, we're going to end up with nothing. Let's do what we can immediately to pass fix NICS and build from there.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer says that bill doesn't go far enough. He's calling for universal background checks.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    What will prevent future tragedies? Comprehensive background checks will. Let's try for significant bipartisan legislation that will make a real difference in keeping our children safe.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Republican Senator Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Manchin are working to revive their 2013 proposal to expand background checks. And Republican Susan Collins and Democrat Heidi Heitkamp lead a bipartisan group of nine senators pushing to bar people on terror watch lists from buying guns.

    In recent days, President Trump has spoken about a range of ideas. They include strengthening background checks, banning bump stocks, raising the purchase age for some rifles to 21, and arming teachers in schools.

    The White House said it will have more specific policy announcements later this week. It's still unclear if anything can pass, but Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin said the country is at a tipping point.

  • Sen. Dick Durbin:

    There are proposals that Americans broadly support. Let's do something. Of course the NRA is opposed to most of these. We expect it. They might have some negative impact on gun sales. But is the gun sales lobby now in charge of writing bills for the Senate and the House?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Meanwhile, in Florida, several emotional hours at the statehouse, as a committee voted to raise the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21, and to install a three-day waiting period for gun purchases.

    Republicans voted down Democratic amendments to ban assault weapons and require mental health screening to purchase a gun.

    One definitive piece of news today. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he now believes and the Justice Department believes they do have the authority to ban those bump stocks or those items that can make a semiautomatic weapon into more of a machine gun — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, there are so many proposals out there. We heard you tick off a number of them. But we have been here before. There has been discussion about what to do about guns in the past. I heard you say it looks tough, but what looks possible?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The bill that seems to have the most support — that doesn't mean it will pass — is the Fix NICS bill.

    That's the idea of encouraging with carrots and sticks agencies to comply with current background checks. But, Judy, even that bill has some issues. There are some Republicans in the Senate who say it violates due process rights.

    Then the other issue, Judy, is when the House passed its version, it coupled together with this bill a conceal carry reciprocity measure that would allow conceal carry permits to cross state lines. That's something Democrats won't support, so the Senate either has to take those two items apart or put them together, and then you have got problems in the House.

    So this one thing that's very narrow has political problems.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But we also know that these students who have come all the way to Washington from Florida and other students around the country who support them are asking for a lot more than that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is there any prospect for more?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    I asked Speaker Ryan about this specifically, and I think the two best potentials for more than this, one, the Manchin-Toomey background bill. The Democrats seem to be doubling down on that. They came out of their caucus meeting today. I talked to many of them.

    And they said, we think we're going to go all in on universal background checks. That's their push. And Republicans, meanwhile, are deciding if they can support Manchin-Toomey or not.

    The other thing that I think is a question mark, Judy, is the idea of perhaps raising age limits nationally. I talked to some conservatives, including Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. He says he's still chewing on that. He's not yet a no.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And this is something we know that the NRA, the National Rifle Association, opposes.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right. That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, timeline, what are we looking at in terms of — a lot of people say they're in a hurry to do something.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    Well, we're just at the end of February. And it looks like the push is for March, though it's hard the say if that's actually reasonable. They have to ask whether they will hold hearings. Will they have some of these students, for example, come and testify before Congress? Will the NRA testify before Congress?

    Then you get into what I think will be the key date here, Judy, March 23. That's the next spending deadline. Democrats will have to decide not only if they are going to push for an immigration deal before then, but now will they demand some action on guns before March 23?

    The other date that's interesting, Judy, March 24.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The day after.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's the day that students are saying they will come to Washington in what they plan for as a mass protest.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we're expecting a lot of people to show up for that. We will see.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right. Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you very much.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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