Lawmakers returned to Washington on Monday amidst intensifying debate over gun laws. The school shooting in Parkland, Florida earlier this month, in which 17 people were killed, has forced Congress to contend yet again with one of the most politically controversial issues.
Before the 14 February massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, mass shootings had become almost routine in the US, drawing little reaction in Washington. Events in Florida, however, have spawned a rare grassroots backlash, led by students.
Donald Trump will call on Congress to take action – a departure from his response to previous shootings under his watch. The president has signaled support for tightening background checks and raising the minimum age for some gun purchases from 18 to 21.
Lawmakers are likely however to face familiar obstacles in passing even modest legislation, as midterm elections loom.
The National Rifle Association has also come out aggressively against any new restrictions, even as public support for stricter gun laws has risen to its highest level since the early 1990s, according to a CNN poll released on Sunday.
The national outcry in the wake of Parkland could tee up the first major debate over gun laws since the 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 young children and six adults were killed.
The Senate failed to expand background checks in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, due to a Republican-led filibuster of a bipartisan bill in which a handful of Democrats joined.
At least some lawmakers now appear to be changing their tune, with growing support for a bipartisan proposal aimed at ensuring that states and federal agencies comply with and accurately report criminal and mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
The White House has said Trump supports the bill, known as Fix NICS, but may seek some revisions to its language.
‘We must immediately harden our schools’ says NRA’s Wayne LaPierre – video
A pair of senators are also poised to introduce bipartisan legislation that would raise the age for buying assault weapons, including the AR-15 used by the gunman in Parkland, from 18 to 21.
The NRA came out against the idea last week, hours after Trump signaled he would support it.
The president has himself sent mixed signals on the issue of guns, most often returning to the controversial suggestion that the way to prevent school shootings such as that in Florida is to arm teachers. The proposal, which is backed by the NRA, is unlikely to garner support on Capitol Hill – but is indicative of Trump’s allegiance to gun rights activists and his base.
Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser, told NBC News on Monday she believed the idea was at least worth exploring.
“I think that having a teacher who is armed, who cares deeply about her students, or his students, and who is capable and qualified to bear arms is not a bad idea,” she said.
“It is an idea that needs to be discussed.”