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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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Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy ‘seriously considering’ Senate bid against Rubio in 2022

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WASHINGTON — Rep. Stephanie Murphy is taking preliminary steps toward challenging Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in next year’s midterm election, launching the kind of statewide “listening” tour that often precedes a campaign and is being done virtually because of the pandemic.

“I’m seriously considering [running for Senate] either in ’22 or ’24,” Murphy said in an interview with NBC News on Wednesday.

“The only person Marco Rubio cares about is Marco Rubio,” the third-term Democrat charged. And, she added, “I know what it takes to defeat a powerful Republican incumbent because I’ve done it.”

But first things first — the kind of soft launch that’s designed to build statewide name-recognition and is not explicitly about mounting a campaign. A four-minute video accompanying the announcement of her virtual “Cast Forward” tour of the state has all the hallmarks of a modern campaign launch biopic.

“My family escaped communist Vietnam and we were rescued by the U.S. Navy, and so I owe this country my life,” Murphy says in the video. “My parents, facing a future where their children would not have opportunity or freedom or democracy, decided that we might die in search of light, that that was better than to live on in darkness.”

Murphy would be facing a campaign with a state party in turmoil after Joe Biden won the presidency but lost Florida by three-and-a-half points in November. Republicans control the governor’s office and both U.S. Senate seats.

Rubio, who lost the GOP presidential primary to Donald Trump in 2016, won re-election to his Senate seat that year by about 8 percentage points, and he dodged a potential political maelstrom when Ivanka Trump decided against a rumored primary challenge for next year.

Earlier this week, Murphy played down a possible Senate bid in an interview with NBC News.

“I’m really kind of focused right now on doing my job, serving my community,” Murphy said then. “Of course, there will come a time where I hope I can, you know, share my experiences of winning in a district that very much mirrors the state more broadly. But this isn’t the moment. Right now, I’m really focused on trying to get the next Covid bill across the finish line.”

By Wednesday, she was less coy, acknowledging that she’s actively considering a campaign against Rubio. But she insisted that her listening tour isn’t designed as the platform for that bid.

“This isn’t about that,” she said.

The sessions will focus on five areas, according to a news release set to go out widely on Wednesday: Covid response; combating misinformation; fighting climate change; advancing social justice; and countering voter suppression.

The virtual tour is designed to help Florida Democrats find the right message to attract voters in the midterms, no matter who their candidates for various offices are, Murphy said.

“I think I have some ideas and experience to offer, but most importantly I want to listen,” she said.

As for Washington Democrats who think Florida is a waste of time and money for their party — and there are more than a few of those in the nation’s capital — Murphy said it’s winnable.

“Florida isn’t a red state,” she said. “It’s a hard state.”

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Michel Barnier makes thinly veiled threat to UK if EU boats are shut out of British waters

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MICHEL BARNIER has issued a thinly veiled threat to the UK saying its waters must remain open or Britain risks losing access to the EU’s electricity markets.

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Lawyers have found the parents of 105 separated migrant children in past month

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WASHINGTON — The lawyers working to reunite immigrant parents and children separated by the Trump administration reported on Wednesday that they have found the parents of 105 children in the past month.

The steering committee of pro-bono attorneys and advocates working on reunification said it had yet to find the parents of 506 children, down from 611 on Jan. 14, 2021, the last time it reported data to a federal judge overseeing the process.

Of those 506 children, the lawyers said the parents of about 322 are believed to have been deported from the U.S., making it more difficult to find them.

The lawyers are not required by the judge to say how many of the parents and children have actually been reunified.

The Biden administration recently formed a task force that will place the responsibility of finding and reuniting the families separated by the Trump administration, primarily under the “zero tolerance policy” of 2018, in the hands of the federal government. In their court filing on Wednesday, lawyers representing the separated families and working to reunite them said they would work with the task force going forward.

Lawyers for the Justice Department said they expect the task force will “resolve many — if not all — outstanding issues” related to the lawsuit out of the Southern District of California that resulted in the reunification process overseen by the judge.

One reason it has been so hard to find parents who were separated from their children is that many agreed to be deported without their children in order to allow their children to remain in the U.S. to claim asylum, their lawyers say.

Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and a lawyer representing the separated families in the lawsuit, has said the task force should commit to bringing back those deported parents to the U.S. under special protections in order to reunite with their children.

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