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House To Take Up School Safety Bill After Florida Shooting

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The Republican-controlled House will vote on a school safety bill next week as Congress struggles to respond to the deadly assault on a Florida high school.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday the House will take up a bill creating a federal grant program to train students, teachers and school officials how to identify signs of potential violence and intervene early. 

If approved, the STOP School Violence Act of 2018 would be the first gun-related action in Congress since the Feb. 14 attack on the Florida high school that left 17 dead. 

The bill's sponsor, Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., said the bill could help officials prevent school shootings. "The best way to keep our students and teachers safe is to prevent violence from ever entering school grounds," said Rutherford, a former Jacksonville sheriff. 

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has sponsored a similar bill in the Senate, although senators are expected to turn first to a bill strengthening the federal background checks system for gun purchases. 

No votes on gun bills are scheduled in the Senate. 

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate and the lead sponsor of the background checks bill, said Tuesday he is frustrated that lawmakers keep attempting to add gun-related proposals to his bill, a relatively modest measure that would bolster the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. 

The "Fix NICS" bill would penalize federal agencies that don't properly report required records and reward states that comply by providing them with federal grant preferences. The bill is a response to a shooting last November in which a gunman killed more than two dozen people at a Texas church. The Air Force has acknowledged it failed to report the gunman's domestic violence conviction to the National Criminal Information Center database. 

"People want to make this bill a Christmas tree, trying to decorate it with other legislative ornaments that look nice to their political base but stand no chance of passing this body or the House," Cornyn said on the Senate floor. "I think we have to call that what it is. It's political posturing. It's not about getting a result. It's not about passing a bill which will actually improve the background check system." 

Meanwhile, the FBI gave a closed-door briefing Tuesday to members of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees. McCarthy said the session was intended to address law enforcement failures that potentially could have prevented the shooting and "make sure they can make corrections so it can never repeat itself again." 

Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., said afterward that the briefing "raised more questions than it answered." DeSantis, a member of both the Judiciary and Oversight panels, tweeted that "We should have more answers 20 days after the shooting. This was clearly a major failure and Americans deserve swift accountability and reform." 

Fix NICS has passed the House, and President Donald Trump has indicated he would sign it, Cornyn said, citing a phone conversation with Trump last Thursday. The call came a day after Trump put Cornyn and other Republicans in the hot seat as he called for speedy and substantial changes to the nation's gun laws in a televised meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers at the White House. 

Trump later appeared to back away from some of the proposals to tighten gun laws, saying in a tweet that "Many ideas, some good & some not so good" were discussed. Trump also tweeted that he'd had a "Good (Great) meeting in the Oval Office" the next night with the National Rifle Association, which opposes many of the proposals discussed at the Feb. 28 White House meeting with lawmakers.

Trump and Congress are under pressure to act in the wake of the Valentine's Day attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Surviving students and gun-control supporters have scheduled a march and rally in Washington and other cities March 24 to urge new gun laws. 

Trump has urged support for improved background checks and has promised to issue an executive order barring the use of bump stock devices that enable guns to fire like automatic weapons. Trump also has backed more controversial ideas, including increasing the minimum age for the purchase of assault weapons from 18 to 21, which is opposed by the NRA, and arming certain teachers, which the gun lobby supports. 

The NRA called the bulk of the proposals discussed at the Feb. 28 meeting "bad policy" that would not keep people safe. The NRA's executive director, Chris Cox, tweeted after the group's White House meeting that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence "support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don't want gun control."