The “Fix NICS” measure would provide funding for states to comply with the existing National Instant Criminal Background Check system and penalize federal agencies that don’t comply. The bipartisan measure was approved in the House, but stalled in the Senate amid concerns by some Republicans about restricting gun rights without due process and complaints by Democrats that it does not go far enough to address gun violence.
The giant spending bill also includes money to improve school safety as Congress struggles to respond to the deadly assault on a Florida high school and other shootings. The money will be used to train school officials and law enforcement officers how to identify signs of potential violence and intervene early, install metal detectors and take other steps to “harden” schools to prevent violence.
The House approved the STOP School Violence Act earlier this month, but the measure has not been taken up in the Senate.
Kris Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said she and other gun-control advocates would be disappointed if Fix NICS represents the strongest action Congress takes this year on guns.
“It’s a tiny, baby step forward,” Brown said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters. “We think it’s not far enough.”
Congress is under pressure to respond to the public outcry over gun violence following the Florida shooting and other incidents, including a fatal shooting Tuesday at a school in Maryland.
The bare-bones plan to bolster the federal background check system and enhance school safety programs emerged as the most likely course of action in a bitterly divided Congress facing an election year.
The bills were key parts of President Donald Trump’s limited plan to combat school shootings, which also includes creation of a federal commission headed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Trump initially appeared to back a proposal that increases the minimum age for purchasing assault weapons to 21, but has since said he would leave decisions to states. Trump’s plan also leaves the question of arming teachers to states and local communities.
The apparent decision to include Fix NICS and the school safety measure in the spending bill ensures that Congress takes some action on guns ahead of major rallies scheduled Saturday in Washington and other cities urging more gun control.
The Brady campaign has urged a three-point plan that includes expansion of background checks to cover gun purchases at gun shows and on the internet; banning new assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; and enabling court-issued restraining orders against people deemed a threat to themselves or others.
The National Rifle Association backs Fix NICS as a way to add transparency and accountability to the background check system, but has pushed harder for a separate bill allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines.
Lawmakers also were discussing a provision that would allow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to do research on gun safety. A law adopted in the 1990’s blocks such research and prohibits the CDC from engaging in advocacy on issues related to guns.
The so-called Dickey Amendment, named after former Arkansas Rep. Jay Dickey, has been the focus of a political fight for more than two decades. The NRA pushed for the law but maintains it doesn’t oppose gun research. Instead the group says it opposes research that is biased, flimsy or aimed at advocacy.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., called language allowing federal research on guns a major breakthrough. “It’s a victory for our country & children,” she tweeted. “Our work to stop gun violence will continue.”
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