Congress Stalled On Bills To Tighten Gun Background Check System Lawmakers have made little progress in advancing any new gun control measures in since the Feb. 14 shooting that left 17 people dead at a high school in Parkland, Fla.
NPR logo

Congress Stalled On Bills To Tighten Gun Background Check System

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/589131407/589279460" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Congress Stalled On Bills To Tighten Gun Background Check System

Congress Stalled On Bills To Tighten Gun Background Check System

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/589131407/589279460" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The debate in Washington over what to do about mass shootings is following a familiar pattern. Democrats and Republicans both say they want to end gun violence, but they disagree on how to do that. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are hoping to vote on a series of narrow fixes to the background check system that's already in place for most gun purchases.

NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell joins us to talk about where that debate stands now. Hi, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Senate leaders had said they wanted a vote this week on changes to the national background check system. Are they still on track to do that?

SNELL: It really doesn't look like it right now. Senator John Cornyn - he's a No. 2 Republican in the Senate from Texas - he wrote this new changes to the background check system and says he's really hoping to get there. And he made a long, impassioned speech on the Senate floor today asking people to come up for a vote for this. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN CORNYN: If our attitude is I want everything on my list or nothing, we're going to end up with nothing.

SNELL: And that's a pretty stark warning. The problem isn't just a divide between Democrats and Republicans. This issue of guns really splits the parties in a lot of different ways. And it's fairly clear that the bill could pass if the Senate, you know, allowed it to come up. But there are a lot of concerns that Democrats might push for votes on broader controls like an assault weapons ban or universal background checks. And Republicans want to enforce existing laws. They want to focus on that. And, you know, this is something we've seen a lot in the past few months. It's the same dynamic as in DACA where Democrats and Republicans agree on a goal but they can't agree on the legislation to reach that goal, so it makes it really hard for them to get to a vote.

SHAPIRO: DACA, the protections for young immigrants.

SNELL: Right.

SHAPIRO: One difference with previous gun violence debates is that now you have these students from the high school where the shooting took place.

SNELL: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: Have their voices had an impact on lawmakers?

SNELL: Absolutely. We're hearing from Republicans in particular saying, you know, that they were moved by this in a way that we didn't hear them saying that before. And survivors were in the Capitol today. They visited with House Speaker Paul Ryan and they met with other legislators. But Ryan was among those who said he was deeply affected by hearing the stories on TV. But he also said what I'm hearing from other Republicans, which is they don't want to pass laws that would restrict guns from most people. Here's what Ryan said at a press conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PAUL RYAN: Of course we want to listen to these kids. But we also want to make sure that we protect people's due process rights and legal constitutional rights while making sure that people who should not get guns don't get them.

SNELL: And that brings us back to the same debate that's been plaguing Congress for years. There's virtually no agreement on a single bill that can really address the complicated issue that is mass shootings.

SHAPIRO: So where does it go from here in that case?

SNELL: Yeah. Ryan says the ball's in the Senate's court. The Senate Republicans say it's up to Democrats to agree with them. Democrats say they can support this narrow background check bill, and they're blaming conservatives who are blocking the bill over what they're calling due process issues. So basically it's kind of a circular firing squad of people saying it's somebody else's responsibility to get moving on this. One option would be for all 100 senators to agree to pass the bill without ever actually voting on it. They would just voice vote it and say, we have passed changes to the background checks, and send it to the House for another vote. Another option would be for Democrats and Republicans to agree on a limited number of amendments.

All of this is a big ask. It's a short period of time, and Congress lives slowly even on issues where there's broad agreement. And guns really aren't one of those areas. Congress has not prepared for a gun debate either. They planned to spend this time approving nominations and moving on to banking, but the shooting forced their hand to start talking about guns again.

SHAPIRO: NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell, thank you.

SNELL: Thank you.

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.