Gun violence in the US

Republicans in Florida and Washington back away from curbs on guns in school shooter debates

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 February, 2018, 2:27am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2018, 3:28am

The top Republican in the US House of Representatives backed away from toughening US gun laws on Tuesday despite the outcry over the Florida high school massacre that left 17 people dead

House Speaker Paul Ryan blamed a broken system that allowed shooter Nikolas Cruz to take an AR-15 assault rifle into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, where he allegedly shot dead 14 students and three adults.

Meanwhile, in Florida, a Democrat-led motion to ban assault rifles, among other things, was quashed in the state’s own House of Representatives.

Speaking on Tuesday, Ryan said “law-abiding” US citizens should have the right to own such weapons. 

Instead, Ryan said, the problem is with a system that allowed Cruz – who had known mental health problems – to legally obtain weapons.

“There was a colossal breakdown in the system locally,” Ryan told reporters.

“We shouldn’t be banning guns for law-abiding citizens. We should be focusing on making sure that citizens who should not get guns in the first place don’t get those guns.”

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Ryan said he appreciated meeting with students from the high school to discuss what can be done to prevent future mass shootings.

But he avoided questions on whether new legislation would address the issue.

“Of course we want to listen to these kids. But we also want to make sure we protect people’s due process rights and legal constitutional rights.”

Steve Scalise, the number three house Republican nearly killed in a June 2017 shooting at a baseball game, called his meeting with the students Monday evening “very emotional.”

“Some of the things that they’ve been through are similar to some of the things that I’ve been through,” he told CBS.

But Scalise was cool on introducing more restrictions on gun ownership, saying only that there needed to be better enforcement of existing legislation. 

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Asked about student demands for limits on ownership of AR-15s, he said: “That’s not one of the big discussions here. 

“You can talk about any one weapon and if you ban that weapon, does that mean that nothing else is going to happen?”

Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer, however, said that Congress must try again to pass meaningful gun legislation, starting with a measure guaranteeing comprehensive background checks for gun purchases.

“It’s outrageous that so many guns are sold with no background check whatsoever,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

“We cannot settle for half-measures. Not after what happened in Florida. Not after so many tragedies.”

Florida lawmakers and the state’s Republican Governor, Rick Scott, have proposed raising the minimum age to buy assault weapons to 21, from 18.

Ryan also backed away from US President Donald Trump’s proposal to arm teachers in schools to prevent future attacks, saying it was an issue for local governments to consider.

But he also blamed the mass shootings problem on violence in America’s culture.

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“This speaks to bigger questions of our culture. What are we teaching our kids? Look at the violence in our culture,” he said.

“There are bigger questions here than a narrow law.”

Also on Tuesday, the Florida state House of Representatives rejected Democratic-filed amendments that would ban assault weapons, strip out language allowing some teachers to carry guns in schools and require a mental health examination before someone could buy a gun.

The amendment to ban assault weapons was rejected on an 18-11 vote.

A bill to ban assault weapons was thrown out of the House the previous week.

The Florida House appropriations committee is now considering a bill that would raise the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21 and create a three-day waiting period for all gun purchase.

The bill would also create a programme that allows teachers who receive law enforcement training and are deputised by the local sheriff’s office to carry concealed weapons in the classroom if also approved by the school district.