Some Republican leaders called Sunday for stronger background checks on gun buyers in the wake of last week’s mass shooting at a South Florida High School that killed 17 people.
Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida, and GOP Gov. John Kasich of Ohio — in separate interviews Sunday — called for Congress to stop making empty promises and act.
Lankford said he supports a bill by the Senate’s No. 2 Republican — John Cornyn of Texas — to provides financial incentives to states and federal agencies to work harder to comply with laws requiring them to report criminal and mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
Gun sellers are required, in most circumstances, to run the names of would-be gun buyers through the system to ensure they are not barred from purchasing firearms. Cornyn introduced the “Fix NICS Act” last year in response to a mass shooting at a Texas church in November. The shooter was allowed to buy guns despite having a criminal record because the Air Force failed to share his records with the FBI.
The Senate has yet to act on the bill. The House passed it in December, but only after attaching it to controversial legislation — pushed by the National Rifle Association — that would expand Americans’ right to carry concealed weapons.
“That is the first thing of multiple things that need to be done,” Lankford said on NBC’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd. “That is fixing our background check system to make sure that all information is actually getting in there … In this (Florida) case, we have a lot of warning signs that were out there. And people in Parkland and all across the country have every reason to be grieved and incredibly furious.”
As recently as January, the FBI received a tip about Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz and his “desire to kill people,” but the information was never forwarded for investigation, the bureau confirmed Friday.
“All the warning signs were there,” Lankford said. “The community did all the things that the community should do to be able to engage. They saw something, they said something. And nothing was done.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer blasted President Trump on Sunday for offering a 2019 budget proposal that would cut the federal background check program by $12 million, which amounts to a cut of about 16% from current funding. Schumer, D-N.Y., urged Congress to reject the plan.
“President Trump: how can you seriously say that ‘no child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school’ when your team is proposing to dismantle the background check system?” Schumer said in a statement.
Cornyn said Thursday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that he planned to sit down with the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, and its chairman, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, to talk about a strategy for passing his bill to strengthen background checks.
Feinstein said she also wants to talk about banning bump stocks, which are attached to rifles to make them function like automatic weapons. There was talk of banning the devices after the mass shooting at a country music concert in Las Vegas last October, but Congress never acted.
Lankford and most other Republicans have stopped short of supporting a ban on assault weapons or specific types of firearms.
When asked on Meet the Press if it should be harder to purchase an AR-15 such as the one that Cruz used, Lankford replied: “I actually don’t think it should be.”
“I think what should be is difficult for any person with any kind of criminal background history, domestic violence, mental instability, all of those things, regardless,” the senator said. “I don’t care whether they’re buying a 22 pistol or an AR-15.”
Kasich, a former congressman, said he has little faith that the “dysfunctional” Congress will do anything in the wake of the Valentine’s Day shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
“Do I think they can do anything on guns? I hope they prove me wrong and they can, because I have no confidence in them,” Kasich said on CNN’s State of the Union.
Kasich, who mounted an unsuccessful bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, said Republicans in Congress need to be willing to risk losing an election to take “reasonable steps” to reduce gun violence. In addition to expanding background checks, he questioned whether there should be restrictions on assault weapons.
“Sometimes you have to put yourself at risk … that you may not get re-elected,” Kasich said. “It’s not the end of the world because you lose an election. So everybody’s got to look inside themselves and think about their children and grandchildren.”
Curbelo, a moderate Republican, said his party’s leaders in Congress must allow a vote on stronger background check bills and a ban on bump stocks.
“There are a lot of Republicans who are prepared to support reasonable, common-sense gun safety laws, new laws, stronger laws that protect rights for responsible citizens, people who are responsible gun owners, but will prevent those who want to do harm to innocent people from obtaining these weapons,” Curbelo said on ABC’s ThisWeek.
Curbelo commended the high school students who are becoming gun safety activistsin the wake of the Florida shooting.
“We’ve kind of inherited this world of binary choices where we either have to repeal the Second Amendment or have no gun safety regulations whatsoever, and younger generations of Americans don’t see the world that way,” the congressman said. “And I want to represent those people and I want to get something done.”
Other Republicans have also suggested since the Florida shooting that Congress should remove restrictions it has imposed on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that bar the federal agency from researching the connections between mental health problems and gun violence.