Congress bogs down after seriously eying an age limit of 21 to buy assault weapons

WASHINGTON — Forget the idea of raising the age limit for buying an assault weapon to 21.

Not even the momentum from Wednesday’s school walkouts around the nation, or an emotional congressional hearing on gun safety, were enough to ensure enough congressional votes for an idea that as recently as last week was seen as a small but doable step in bolstering gun safety.

Once President Donald Trump left the plan out of his gun safety package this week, after warming to the idea last month, it was dead.

“If the president got behind background checks or raising the age to buy assault weapons, it would pass. The entire [Republican] party is not going to oppose him if he supports common sense gun reform,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said.

“But now that he’s pulled his support … I think there’s very little chance any of them will pass the Senate,” said Murphy, one of Congress’ leading gun safety advocates.

It’s clear that Congress lacks the votes for any comprehensive gun control effort, so it’s been considering smaller steps.

In the House Wednesday, members overwhelmingly passed the STOP School Violence Act, which creates grants to fund school security improvements and violence prevention programs. No Senate vote has been scheduled.

A bid to strengthen the background check system, cited by Trump at a meeting with lawmakers last month, now has 70 Senate co-sponsors. Gun safety supporters saw hope for other steps after that meeting, when Trump supported raising the minimum age to buy assault weapons. He also accused Republicans of being afraid of the gun lobby and National Rifle Association, which is against raising the age.

In Florida, the Republican-dominated state of the Parkland shooting that killed 17 people exactly a month ago, Gov. Rick Scott just signed an age limit into law last week.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., pushed a bill to raise the minimum age required to buy an assault weapon to 21 as a “bipartisan fix” and a “common sense step forward” when they introduced it last month on the same day as the Trump meeting.

Feinstein told McClatchy Wednesday that she believed it could have the votes if it got to the floor, but when asked the likelihood of seeing any Senate action, she responded, “Who knows?”

Others made it clear the smaller steps are not nearly enough.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Wednesday that the background check bill, which also has not been scheduled for a Senate vote, was “not even close” to being enough to respond to gun violence. He did not mention the age restriction bill.

The gloom over the age limit bill was clear as the Senate Judiciary Committee held a widely-publicized hearing on gun violence while thousands of students around the country walked out of classes to support gun reform. Many came to the Capitol, waving signs in outside the dome in the blustery 35-degree cold, imploring lawmakers to act.

At the hearing, gun safety advocates were outraged that legislation to stop gun violence was stalling.

“We’ve seen some of the most tragic incidents that one could imagine, and we don’t need any new ideas, we’ve got great ideas,” said Sen. Kamala Harris. “What we need is we need the United States Congress to have the courage to act.”

Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, offered support at the hearing for several school safety measures including the background checks bill, the STOP School Violence Act and increased regulation of bump stocks.

He did not mention raising the age limit.

Tribune News Service
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Tribune News Service

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