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Florida school shooting: Gun law changes attract renewed GOP interest

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The massacre at a Florida high school has revived an all-too-familiar national debate on gun control – but this time, public pressure combined with fresh presidential interest could spur at least some changes in the country’s gun laws. 

Most recently, the White House said President Trump backs efforts to improve the country’s background check system. His abrupt involvement could be the nudge for action in a Congress divided on virtually every issue.  

“We want to make sure that the background check process is fully staffed and that all information gets in,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said Monday on “Fox & Friends,” describing the current system as a “patchwork.”  

Trump specifically has taken interest in bipartisan Senate legislation that would bolster the National Instant Criminal Background Check System — a nationwide database for gun sellers that helps prevent the purchase of guns by criminals, the mentally ill and others considered too dangerous to own a firearm.

The Republican-controlled House already passed a measure to strengthen or fix the so-called NICS system, as part of legislation approved in December 2017 that also would allow gun owners more freedom to take a firearm across state lines.

“The House passed legislation to enforce existing law, improve compliance with the federal background check system, address the bump stock issue, as well as strengthen the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” North Carolina GOP Rep. Richard Hudson, whose gun-reciprocity plan was included the measure, told Fox News on Monday.

The reciprocity provision is a conservative priority that might not attract bipartisan support in the Senate.

The Senate version, as originally introduced last fall, mostly focused on the background check system. Trump spoke last week with Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican and co-sponsor of that “Fix NICS” measure.  

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that their discussion focused on efforts to “improve federal compliance” with criminal background check legislation. She said the president is “supportive” of such efforts but cautioned that “discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered.”

Cornyn has been working on a version of the bill since at least last year and suggested well before the Florida massacre that it had “good bipartisan support.” The plan also tries to ensure that federal and state authorities submit critical information like criminal convictions to the database.

With no apparent indications of a breakthrough in the Senate to avoid a government shutdown, Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, speaks briefly with reporters outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Jan. 19, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sen. John Cornyn is working on bipartisan background check system legislation.

 (AP)

The National Rifle Association, considered the country’s most influential gun-rights group, also is backing congressional efforts to improve the system. 

Whether this leads to congressional action, or political point-scoring, remains to be seen. 

Both the NRA and Trump were hammered by gun control advocates in the wake of last week’s massacre, where the shooter had an AR-15-style rifle. Trump took heat for his initial comments focusing largely on the issue of mental health. 

He, in turn, has hammered the FBI after the bureau admitted it failed to follow up on clear warnings about the shooter. 

“Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable,” he tweeted, accusing agents of being distracted by the Russia probe. 

Other presidents have put their support behind efforts to stop gun violence, only to see such initiatives fail in Congress, most notably after gunman Adam Lanza killed seven adults and 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012. 

“As a country, we have been through this too many times,” then-President Barack Obama said afterward. “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”

However, the Senate, then controlled by the president’s fellow Democrats, couldn’t pass any proposals to change gun laws. 

The gun control debate has played out after virtually every mass shooting since April 1999, when two teens killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before killing themselves inside their Columbine High School, in Littleton, Colo.

But the most-recent calls for action could escalate the pressure — including nationwide rallies planned next month by students who survived last week’s shooting in Florida. Seventeen people were killed in the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla.

Trump is scheduled Wednesday to host students and teachers at the White House to talk about school safety. And he plans to meet Thursday with state and local officials on the issue. 

A frequent Trump critic, Ohio’s moderate Republican Gov. John Kasich, has publicly urged Trump to lead efforts to curb gun violence.

“Mr. President, America needs real leadership. We need to take common sense steps NOW to protect our kids. From one father to another, let’s protect them,” he tweeted over the weekend.

Kasich says he remains a strong Second Amendment supporter but is calling for changes – perhaps at a state or local level – such as improving background checks and increasing attention on the connection between mental illness and gun violence. (A pro-gun section on his political website reportedly was scrubbed amid his new calls for changes to the law.) 

While Kasich’s view is unlikely to shape presidential policy, other factors are at play. Al Hoffman Jr., a prominent Republican political donor, reportedly has vowed to withhold contributions from candidates who don’t support a ban on the sale of assault weapons. And he suggested he would rally other GOP donors to follow his lead. 

Such an ultimatum would be an unexpected turn in the Washington debate over guns laws, and it’s unclear how much support Hoffman might get from fellow donors. 

A major argument from Second Amendment advocates is that tougher laws won’t keep guns away from potential mass killers and others committing or trying to commit crimes.

Another reason why gun legislation in difficult to pass in Congress is that Republicans, particularly from rural or other conservative districts, could face tough primary challenges if they vote for stricter laws.

As for Cornyn’s plan, Hudson said he’s yet to see the text of the legislation but encouraged senators to consider his Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017.

Hudson submitted his measure after 25 people were killed in November 2017 at a Texas church by a former Air Force member.

The Air Force later admitted it had failed to enter into a federal database that the killer had been convicted in 2004 of domestic violence, a charge that could have prevented him from buying a gun.

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EU slammed as Brussels 'slow to engage' to solve NI protocol issues 'It's nonsense!'

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GEORGE EUSTICE has branded as “bonkers” a situation in which British-made sausages could not be sold in Northern Ireland amid continuing rows over post-Brexit border arrangements.

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Senate Dems to start confirming Biden’s judges to ‘restore the balance’ in courts

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WASHINGTON — The Senate is set to approve President Joe Biden’s first judicial nominees this week, marking the start of an ambitious push to make an impact on the federal courts.

The Senate advanced the nomination of Julien Xavier Neals to be a district judge in New Jersey by a vote of 66-28 on Monday, setting up a final confirmation vote Tuesday.

Next up is Regina M. Rodriguez to be a district judge in Colorado.

The two were advanced in committee last month, along with two other district court nominees and Ketanji Brown Jackson for the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said they were “the first of many jurists that the Democratic-led Senate will consider to restore the balance to the federal judiciary.”

He said the Senate will “swiftly and consistently” process Biden’s judicial picks, “bringing balance, experience and diversity back to the judiciary.”

Republicans aggressively reshaped the judiciary with young conservatives during the Trump administration. Former President Donald Trump appointed 234 judges to the federal bench, flipping the ideological balance in numerous circuit courts and installing three justices to create the most conservative Supreme Court in nearly a century.

Schumer said many of them were “woefully inexperienced and far outside the judicial mainstream.”

A vote on Jackson in the full Senate is expected in the coming weeks. She is seen as a likely short-lister for a Supreme Court vacancy should one open up during Biden’s presidency.

The courts-focused progressive group Demand Justice launched a six-figure ad campaign Monday to build support for Jackson, targeting Black audiences on radio and digital platforms.

Schumer also recommended two voting rights lawyers for judgeships: Myrna Perez of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University for the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals and Dale Ho of the American Civil Liberties Union for the Southern District of New York.

Neals and Rodriguez were nominated for judgeships during the Obama administration but did not have votes in the Senate, which was then run by Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the current minority leader.

Under precedents established by both parties, the 60-vote threshold has been abolished for all judicial confirmations. Nominees can advance with simple majorities.

A separate rule, established in 2019, cut debate time from 30 hours to two hours for certain types of nominees, including those for district court judgeships, so Republicans could quickly confirm Trump’s picks. The precedent will enable Democrats to speedily confirm a number of Biden’s nominees.

There are 71 vacancies in district courts and nine openings in appeals courts, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The numbers are set to rise with additional retirements.

The judicial battle could further heat up if a Supreme Court justice retires. Some progressive activists, including Demand Justice, are pushing Justice Stephen Breyer, 82, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, to retire while Democrats control the Senate so they can confirm a liberal successor.

Breyer has not given any indication that he plans to step aside.

Frank Thorp V contributed.



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'Money talks!' Britons pledge to boycott EU27 goods in protest of bloc's treatment of UK

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BRITONS have pledged to boycott goods sold from EU27 countries in protest of the bloc’s post-Brexit treatment of the UK, an Express.co.uk poll has found.

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