By Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican leaders of the U.S. Congress said on Tuesday they would not raise the minimum age for gun buyers, in a sign that one of President Donald Trump’s proposals likely will not get far on Capitol Hill after a deadly Florida school shooting.
The second-deadliest shooting at a U.S. public school has reignited the long-running national debate over gun rights, pitting many of the students who survived the Feb. 14 high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, against powerful gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association.
Several of those students visited lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to press Congress to enact new restrictions on gun ownership.
Republicans in Congress have rejected those efforts after similar mass shootings in the past, and party leaders said they were not likely to act this time either.
“We shouldn’t be banning guns from 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,” House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan told a news conference.
Trump has suggested arming teachers and raising the minimum age to buy semiautomatic rifles to 21 from 18, but Ryan said Congress was not likely to act on either idea.
Local governments, not Congress, should decide whether to arm teachers, he said.
Trump still supports raising the age limit and will release specific policy proposals this week, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
Ryan’s comments made it clear that more aggressive gun limits, like a ban on the military-style rifle used by the 19-year-old Parkland shooter, were unlikely to gain traction in Congress.
Ryan met later in the day with Parkland students, who pushed for a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, as well as other school-safety features, said Representative Ted Deutch, a Democrat who represents the district.
“This isn’t the last time they they’re going to come to Washington,” Deutch said. “It’s really just the beginning of that effort.”
Prosecutors have said Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland with a legally purchased rifle. Federal and local law enforcement agencies have acknowledged receiving multiple warnings about Cruz’s potential for violence.
Trump and his fellow Republicans are under pressure to act following the massacre, but they also must avoid angering Republican voters who broadly support gun rights as well as interest groups like the NRA, which spent $55 million in the 2016 election.
The House voted in December to bolster a database of people not legally allowed to buy guns and to spur federal agencies and states to upload more data into the system after the Air Force failed to provide records that could have flagged a former service member who killed 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in November.
That legislation has broad support in the Senate as well, and Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, said he wanted a vote to take place this week.
Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer said that measure by itself would not be adequate. He called for Congress to expand the background check system to cover all gun sales, including those conducted at gun shows and over the internet.
That legislation has failed in Congress twice over the past five years, and it fell short again in the House on Tuesday as Republicans rejected an effort by Democrats to bring it up for a vote.
“We Democrats, at a minimum, believe we should be passing a universal background check legislation that assures that guns don’t fall into the wrong hands,” Schumer told reporters.
The White House does not back that idea, Sanders said.
ACTION IN FLORIDA
As Congress has failed to tighten gun laws after other mass shootings, states have taken action on their own.
A House of Representatives committee of the Republican-controlled Florida legislature voted on Tuesday to raise the minimum legal age for purchasing all rifles to 21 from 18 and impose a three-day waiting period for any gun purchases. Buyers of handguns must already be at least 21 and submit to a three-day wait.
The measure would also create a statewide program to arm specially trained teachers – subject to school district approval – while assigning more police as school resource officers and allowing police to confiscate weapons from people who are involuntarily committed as a danger to themselves or others.
In addition, the measure would outlaw the sale of bump stocks, devices that enable semiautomatic rifles to be operated as fully automatic machine guns. The panel rejected a Democratic-backed amendment to ban assault-style weapons.
The package must now win approval in the full legislature before it goes to Republican Governor Rick Scott for signature.
Cruz, charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, was due back in court on Wednesday for a hearing to determine whether he has sufficient assets to pay for his own lawyer. His mother died in November.
Stoneman Douglas students were scheduled to return to class on Wednesday for the first time since the massacre. The building where most of the bloodshed occurred will remain closed. The bill adopted by a state House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday would provide funding to demolish the building and replace it with a memorial to shooting victims.
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Katanga Johnson and Doina Chiacu in Washington, Zachary Fagenson in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Scott Malone; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)