Supreme Court rebuffs bid to expand legal protections for gun silencers

FILE PHOTO: SilencerCo CEO Joshua Waldron shows guns with suppressors in West Valley City, Utah February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday turned away a bid to widen legal protections for gun silencers in a case involving two Kansas men convicted for failing to register the devices as required by federal law, as the justices again sidestepped a chance to rule on the scope of the right to bear arms.

The justices declined to hear appeals by the two men, Shane Cox and Jeremy Kettler, and left in place their convictions in cases brought by federal prosecutors. The men had asked the court to decide whether silencers – muzzle attachments that suppress the sound of a gunshot – are covered by the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment, which protects the right to keep and bear arms.

The court’s action came in the aftermath of a May 31 mass shooting in the Virginia coastal city of Virginia Beach in which a gunman who killed 12 people used weapons including a handgun equipped with a silencer.

President Donald Trump, a Republican with a close relationship to the National Rifle Association pro-gun lobby, said in an interview aired on June 5 that he does not like silencers and would be open to considering banning the devices. His administration this year imposed a ban on “bump stock” attachments that enable semi-automatic weapons to be fired rapidly, with the Supreme Court in March permitting the policy to take effect.

Kettler and Cox were prosecuted together in 2014 after Kettler purchased a silencer from Cox’s military surplus store in Chanute, Kansas. Both were prosecuted under a federal law called the National Firearms Act, which requires registration of certain firearms, with silencers included in a list of covered items along with grenades, machine guns and bombs.

Cox was convicted of possessing an unregistered silencer as well as an unregistered short-barreled rifle and transferring unregistered silencers. Kettler was convicted of possessing an unregistered silencer.

The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld both men’s convictions last year, prompting them to appeal to the Supreme Court.

In January, the Supreme Court agreed to hear its biggest gun rights case since 2010, taking up a challenge to New York City’s strict limits on handgun owners transporting their firearms outside the home.

New York officials are considering revising the measure, which may lead to the Supreme Court case becoming moot before the justices hear arguments in their next term, which begins in October.

The court in recent years has been reluctant to take up gun cases and has yet to decide whether the Second Amendment protects a right to carry guns in public, a question left unanswered in its two most recent gun-related decisions.

In its 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller ruling, the court held that the Second Amendment guaranteed an individual right to bear arms. In its 2010 McDonald v. City of Chicago ruling, the court held that the earlier ruling applied to the states.

The court currently has two appeals pending that ask for the justices to rule that the right to bear arms extends outside the home, as well as two other gun-related cases. The justices may be waiting for the New York case to be resolved before deciding what moves to take on the other cases.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

NRA sues Los Angeles over law requiring that contractors reveal ties to gun group

An attendee speaks to representatives of the National Rifle Association (NRA) at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) annual meeting at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland

(Reuters) – The National Rifle Association sued Los Angeles on Wednesday over a new law requiring that contractors seeking to do business in the second most-populous U.S. city must disclose their ties to the gun rights group.

The NRA said the law violates its First Amendment free speech and association rights and its equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution, according to its complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court.

Mayor Eric Garcetti was also named as a defendant.

The Los Angeles City Attorney’s office and Garcetti’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit challenges an ordinance passed on Feb. 12 by the Los Angeles City Council that requires companies that want city contracts to disclose NRA contracts or sponsorships.

That ordinance was passed in the wake of a series of recent mass shootings in the United States.

The NRA said Los Angeles adopted the ordinance “intending to silence NRA’s voice, as well as the voices of all those who dare oppose the city’s broad gun-control agenda.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

U.S. Supreme Court refuses to block Trump’s gun ‘bump stock’ ban

FILE PHOTO: A bump fire stock, (R), that attaches to a semi-automatic rifle to increase the firing rate is seen at Good Guys Gun Shop in Orem, Utah, U.S., October 4, 2017. REUTERS/George Frey/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a request by gun rights activists to put on hold the Trump administration’s ban on “bump stock” attachments that allow semi-automatic weapons to be fired rapidly, a rare recent instance of gun control at the federal level.

The court in a brief order refused to grant a temporary stay sought by plaintiffs including the group Gun Owners of America in a lawsuit filed in Michigan challenging the ban while litigation continues.

The policy took effect on Tuesday on the same day that Chief Justice John Roberts rejected a similar bid to delay implementation in a separate legal challenge brought in Washington by individual gun owners and gun rights groups including the Firearms Policy Foundation and Florida Carry Inc.

An appeals court previously exempted specific people and groups involved in the Washington case from the ban while that litigation proceeds.

President Donald Trump pledged to ban the devices soon after a gunman used them in an October 2017 shooting spree that killed 58 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas. The Justice Department on Dec. 18 announced plans to implement the policy.

Bump stocks use a gun’s recoil to bump its trigger, enabling a semiautomatic weapon to fire hundreds of rounds per minute, which can transform it into a machine gun. The Justice Department’s regulation followed the lead of many states and retailers that imposed stricter limits on sales of guns and accessories after a deadly shooting at a Florida high school in February 2018.

In the Michigan case, a federal judge already has ruled in favor of the administration. The Cincinnati, Ohio-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to put the ban on hold pending appeal. Other plaintiffs in that case include the Gun Owners Foundation, the Virginia Citizens Defense League and three individual gun owners.

In the Washington case, a federal judge also upheld the ban, prompting gun rights advocates to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. That court has heard oral arguments but has not yet ruled.

Those challenging the policy have argued that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) lacks the authority to equate bump stocks with machine guns. One of the laws at the center of the legal dispute was written more than 80 years ago, when Congress restricted access to machine guns during the heyday of American gangsters’ use of “tommy guns.”

Trump’s fellow Republicans typically oppose gun control measures and are protective of the right to bear arms promised in the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. In 2017, there were 39,773 gun deaths in the United States, according to the most recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures released in December.

The FBI said in January it had found no clear motive for the 64-year-old Las Vegas gunman, Stephen Paddock, in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

‘Our darkest of days’: PM Ardern voices New Zealand’s grief

A poster hangs at a memorial site for victims of Friday's shooting, in front of Christchurch Botanic Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

By Tom Westbrook and Charlotte Greenfield

CHRISTCHURCH (Reuters) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday praised the bravery of mosque worshippers as a lone gunman massacred their friends and family, saying the nation stood with its grieving Muslim community in this “darkest of days”.

As preparations for the first burials were underway for the 50 people killed last Friday in the Christchurch mosques mass shooting, Ardern singled out three worshippers, including one of the first killed in the attack.

A woman touches a photo at a memorial site for the victims of Friday's shooting, outside Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

A woman touches a photo at a memorial site for the victims of Friday’s shooting, outside Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Hati Mohemmed Daoud Nabi, 71, opened the door to the Al Noor mosque. Ardern said he “uttered the words ‘Hello brother, welcome’. His final words”.

“Of course, he had no idea of the hate that sat behind the door, but his welcome tells us so much; that he was a member of a faith that welcomed all its members, that showed openness, and care,” she told parliament.

Ardern, who has been widely praised for her compassionate and decisive handling of the tragedy, said she never anticipated having to voice the grief of a nation.

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist who was living in Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island, was charged with murder on Saturday.

He was remanded without a plea and is due back in court on April 5, when police said he was likely to face more charges.

“The families of the fallen will have justice,” said Ardern, adding she would never mention the alleged gunman’s name.

“He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing. Not even his name.”

She ended her speech with the Arabic greeting “Al salam Alaikum”, meaning “Peace be upon you”.

The victims, killed at two mosques during Friday prayers, were largely Muslim migrants, refugees and residents from countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Turkey, Kuwait, Somalia and others.

No official list of victims has been released and police said they were “acutely aware of frustrations” at the length of time taken to formally identify bodies.

“While identification may seem straightforward the reality is much more complex, particularly in a situation like this,” police said in a statement. Twelve victims had been identified to the satisfaction of the coroner and six of those had been returned to their families, they said.

Bodies of the victims were being washed and prepared for burial in a Muslim ritual process on Tuesday, with teams of volunteers flown in from overseas to assist with the heavy workload.

A wheelchair-using worshipper who survived the slaughter at the Al Noor mosque, but whose wife was killed, has offered an olive branch to the gunman, saying he would like to meet him and tell him “I still love you”.

“I don’t agree with what you did; you took a wrong decision, a wrong direction, but I want to believe in you. That you have great potential in your heart,” said Farhid Ahmed, 59.

Fifty people were wounded and 30 of them are in the Christchurch hospital, authorities said. Nine of them are in critical condition. One four-year-old child was transferred to a hospital in Auckland in a critical condition.

GUN LAW DEBATE RAGES

The gunman used a semi-automatic AR-15 during the mosque shootings, police said. A New Zealand gun shop owner said the store had sold Tarrant four weapons and ammunition online between December 2017 and March 2018, but not the high-powered weapon used in the massacre.

Ardern has said she supports a ban on semi-automatic weapons and that cabinet has made in-principle decisions to change gun laws which she will announce next Monday.

“Part of ensuring the safety of New Zealanders must include a frank examination of our gun laws,” she said.

While some New Zealanders have voluntarily surrendered guns, others have been buying more to beat the ban.

A gun club in the northern town of Kaitaia burned down early on Tuesday and police were treating the blaze as suspicious.

Simon Bridges, leader of the opposition National Party, said he wanted to get details of the changes to see if there could be bipartisan support in parliament. The Nationals draw support from rural areas, where gun ownership is high.

“We know that change is required. I’m willing to look at anything that is going to enhance our safety – that’s our position,” Bridges told TVNZ.

Ardern has said that Tarrant emailed a “manifesto” to more than 30 recipients including her office, nine minutes before the attack but it gave no location or specific details. In the document, which was also posted online, Tarrant described himself as “Just an ordinary White man, 28 years old”.

Ardern was critical of social media platforms for allowing the distribution of hatred and division, including live broadcasts of the attack.

“We cannot simply sit back and accept that these platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place where they are published. They are the publisher. Not just the postman,” she said.

“There cannot be a case of all profit no responsibility. This, of course, doesn’t take away the responsibility we too must show as a nation, to confront racism, violence and extremism.”

A consortium of global technology firms has shared on its collective database the digital fingerprints of more than 800 versions of the video of the mass shooting.

Anyone caught sharing the massacre video in New Zealand faces a fine of up to NZ$10,000 ($6,855) or up to 14 years in jail.

Facebook, the world’s largest social media network, has said it removed 1.5 million videos within 24 hours of the attack.

Ardern said there would be an inquiry into what government agencies “knew, or could or should have known” about the alleged gunman and whether the attack could have been prevented.

More than 250 New Zealand police are working on the inquiry, with staff from the U.S. FBI and Australia’s Federal Police joining them.

People visit a memorial site for victims of Friday's shooting, in front of Christchurch Botanic Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

People visit a memorial site for victims of Friday’s shooting, in front of Christchurch Botanic Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Police will be stationed at mosques around the country when they are open for prayers, and nearby when closed, said Ardern.

“Unfortunately, we have seen in countries that know the horrors of terrorism more than us, there is a pattern of increased tension and actions over the weeks that follow. That means we do need to ensure that vigilance is maintained.”

(Additional reporting by Praveen Menon in WELLINGTON; Editing by Michael Perry and Lincoln Feast)

Defiant U.S. sheriffs push gun sanctuaries, imitating liberals on immigration

A view of the Cibola County Sheriff's Department sign in Grants, New Mexico, U.S., February 28, 2019. Picture taken February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Adria Malcolm

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – A rapidly growing number of counties in at least four states are declaring themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries, refusing to enforce gun-control laws that they consider to be infringements on the U.S. constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

Organizers of the pro-gun sanctuaries admit they took the idea from liberals who have created immigration sanctuaries across the United States where local officials defy the Trump administration’s efforts to enforce tougher immigration laws.

Now local conservatives are rebelling against majority Democratic rule in the states. Elected sheriffs and county commissioners say they might allow some people deemed to be threats under “red flag” laws to keep their firearms. In states where the legal age for gun ownership is raised to 21, authorities in some jurisdictions could refuse to confiscate guns from 18- to 20-year-olds.

Democrats took control of state governments or widened leads in legislative chambers last November, then followed through on promises to enact gun control in response to an epidemic of mass shootings in public spaces, religious sites and schools.

Resistance to those laws is complicating Democratic efforts to enact gun control in Washington, Oregon, New Mexico and Illinois, even though the party holds the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature in all four states.

The sanctuary movement is exposing the rift between rural and urban America as much as the one between the Republican and Democratic parties, as small, conservative counties push back against statewide edicts passed by big-city politicians.

“If they want to have their own laws, that’s fine. Don’t shove them on us down here,” said Dave Campbell, a member of the board of Effingham County, Illinois, about 215 miles (350 km) south of Chicago.

Backers of the sanctuary movement say they want to take it nationwide. Leaders in all four states where it has taken hold have formed a loose alliance, sometimes sharing strategies or texts of resolutions. They also say they are talking with like-minded activists in California, New York, Iowa and Idaho.

As it grows, the rebellion is setting up a potential clash between state and local officials.

In Washington, nearly 60 percent of the voters in November approved Initiative 1639, which raises the minimum age to purchase a semiautomatic rifle to 21, enhances background checks and increases the waiting period to buy such guns to 10 days.

The law is due to take effect in July, but sheriffs in more than half of Washington’s 39 counties have pledged not to enforce it, pro-gun activists say, and five counties have passed resolutions to the same effect.

Governor Jay Inslee has firmly backed I-1639 and Attorney General Bob Ferguson has advised sheriffs “they could be held liable” if they allow a dangerous person to acquire a firearm later used to do harm.

Sheriff Bob Songer of Klickitat County, population 22,000, called Ferguson’s warning a “bluff” and said he would not enforce I-1639 because he considered it unconstitutional.

“Unfortunately for the governor and the attorney general, they’re not my boss. My only boss is the people that elected me to office,” Songer said.

GAINING MOMENTUM

Support for Second Amendment sanctuaries has gained momentum in recent weeks, especially among county boards in New Mexico and Illinois.

Sixty-three counties or municipalities in Illinois have passed some form of a firearms sanctuary resolution and more are likely to, Campbell said.

Twenty-five of New Mexico’s 33 counties have passed resolutions to support sheriffs who refuse to enforce any firearms laws that they consider unconstitutional, according to the New Mexico Sheriffs Association. In some cases hundreds of pro-gun activists have packed county commissioner meetings.

Grants Mayor Martin Hicks speaks during the county commission meeting in Grants, New Mexico, U.S., February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Adria Malcolm

Grants Mayor Martin Hicks speaks during the county commission meeting in Grants, New Mexico, U.S., February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Adria Malcolm

In Oregon, voters in eight counties approved Second Amendment Preservation Ordinances last November that allow sheriffs to determine which state gun laws to enforce.

Organizers in Oregon plan to put even more defiant “sanctuary ordinance” measures on county ballots in 2020 that will direct their officials to resist state gun laws.

Such sanctuary resolutions could face legal challenges but backers say they have yet to face a lawsuit, in part because the Washington initiative has yet to take effect and the Illinois and New Mexico legislation has yet to pass.

The chief counsel for a leading U.S. gun-control group questioned the legality of the sanctuary movement, saying state legislatures make laws and courts interpret them, not sheriffs.

“It should not be up to individual sheriffs or police officers deciding which laws they personally like,” said Jonathan Lowy of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “This attitude shows a disrespect for the way our system of government is supposed to operate.”

In New Mexico, the legislature is moving forward with a slate of gun-control bills. One would enhance background checks and another would create a red-flag law keeping guns out of the hands of people deemed dangerous by a judge.

The New Mexico Sheriffs Association is leading the resistance, saying the red-flag law would violate due process rights and was unnecessary given current statutes.

Tony Mace, sheriff of Cibola County and chairman of the statewide group, said the background check law would impose regulations on hunting buddies or competitive shooters every time they share guns, and he refuses to spend resources investigating such cases.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham accused the rebellious sheriffs of falsely promoting the idea that “someone is coming for their firearms,” saying none of the proposed laws infringe on Second Amendment rights.”It’s an exhausting charade,” Lujan Grisham said.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta in New York; editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Grant McCool)

Centrist Democrats stray on votes, roiling House majority party

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Freshman Democrats determined to walk a centrist path in the U.S. House of Representatives are testing party harmony between moderates and liberals, just as work on major issues including gun control and healthcare policy is getting underway.

Democrats took control of the House from President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans in Jan

U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-PA) poses for a picture before his interview for Reuters on Capitol Hill, February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-PA) poses for a picture before his interview for Reuters on Capitol Hill, February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

uary thanks in part to party moderates who won seats formerly held by Republicans in November’s midterm elections.

But these centrists already have upset some Democratic elders including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the party’s liberal wing by voting on occasion with the Republicans during their first couple of months in office. Republicans are in the minority in the House, but control the Senate.

Tensions flared this week after House Republicans managed to successfully amend a gun control bill with votes from 26 Democrats. Many of the Democrats who broke with the party line on Wednesday represent swing districts that had voted for Trump in 2016.

“How did Nancy Pelosi let this happen?” Justice Democrats, a liberal political action committee that helped elect new Democratic star Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York in November, asked on Twitter after the vote.

The episode highlights the political tightrope being walked by several dozen freshman who helped to clinch the House majority for Democrats in November by expanding into Republican territory. There currently are 235 Democrats, 197 Republicans and three vacancies in the 435-seat House.

The centrists have not gotten as much attention as Ocasio-Cortez during their first months in office, and their differing positions from the party’s liberals on policies such as government-run healthcare have at times put them at odds.

They also already have Republicans on their backs for the next election in 2020. Many of the 55 seats Republicans plan to target next year are held by freshman Democratic lawmakers who captured a previously Republican-held seat last year or prevailed in districts Trump won in 2016.

Representative Joe Cunningham, 36, did both when he won a South Carolina district in November that had not elected a Democrat to the House since before he was born. Cunningham defeated Republican rival Katie Arrington by less than 2 percentage points in a district Trump won by 13 percentage points in 2016.

On Wednesday, Cunningham was among the Democrats who supported the Republican amendment calling for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency criticized by liberals like Ocasio-Cortez, to be notified when an illegal immigrant in caught trying to buy a gun.

Cunningham, a gun owner, said the next day he saw the amendment as minor. He added that it should not detract from the fact that the House had passed a gun control measure for the first time in two decades, calling for universal background checks on gun purchases.

In an interview on Tuesday, Cunningham was unapologetic for sometimes siding with Republicans. He has done it around a dozen times since January, mostly on procedural votes.

“I will be an independent check and not toe the party line whenever I disagree,” Cunningham told Reuters. “I’m not going to let the national party or the national message drive my message at home.”

Representative Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, another Democratic freshman, said, “I just do what I think is right,” after straying from his party’s line on a previous Democratic proposal banning funding for Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall. Van Drew also supported the Republican gun amendment.

‘JUST VOTE NO’

The House Democratic leadership was divided this week on members breaking with the party line. Pelosi told reporters on Thursday she did not approve, even on procedural votes.

“Just vote no, because the fact is, a vote yes is to give leverage to the other side,” Pelosi said.

Other Democratic leaders took a more relaxed view.

“It’s OK to vote your district,” said Representative James Clyburn, a member of the House Democratic leadership who, like Cunningham, represents a South Carolina district.

“We have a very diverse caucus,” Clyburn added. “I wish people would not compare us to the Republicans, where everybody looks alike. We’ve got varied backgrounds and experiences that we have to take into account.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s communications director, Corbin Trent, said the congresswoman believes Democrats who have broken with the party on such votes “are putting themselves on a list for Republicans, to divide the party.”

At a closed-door party meeting on Thursday, Ocasio-Cortez, who describes herself as a “democratic socialist,” said Democrats who voted for the Republican gun amendment had put her in a difficult spot because the measure endangered some in her community, Trent said.

Despite the ongoing debate, the party has said it will work hard to defend Democrats in swing districts.

Representative Cheri Bustos, who chairs the committee that works to elect Democrats to the House, has announced a list of 44 lawmakers including Cunningham in the party’s “frontline” program that helps the most vulnerable Democrats with fundraising and campaign guidance. The list includes 41 first-term House members.

“We want to make sure that our members come back,” Bustos, a fourth-term congresswoman who represents an Illinois district won by Trump in 2016, said in an interview. “We want them to be successful, and they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do to be successful.”

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Will Dunham)

U.S. House takes aim at loose gun-sale checks; passes second bill

By Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a second bill in as many days to toughen background checks for gun purchases, but both bills were likely to face opposition from the Republican-controlled Senate and the White House.

The bills are the first major gun control measures approved in Congress in many years. They are an early move to address gun violence by Democrats after capturing majority control of the House in the November 2018 congressional midterm elections.

The Senate remains controlled by Republicans, many of whom are closely allied with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun-rights voters, who fiercely defend what they see as their constitutional right to own firearms.

While Republican President Donald Trump has said he supports stronger background checks, he has thus far toed the party line on gun control legislation, leaving Washington deadlocked on how to address frequent mass shootings in the United States.

From 2009 to 2017, there were at least 173 shootings in which four or more people were killed, with at least 1,001 total deaths, according to the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.

Thursday’s background check bill would extend the number of days government authorities have to complete a background check before a gun sale. It passed by a 228-198 House vote.

Wednesday’s bill would expand background checks to include firearm purchases at gun shows and over the internet. It was approved 240-190. Both votes were largely along party lines.

The White House said on Monday that Trump’s advisers would recommend the president veto both pieces of legislation if they reached his desk because the first would impose “burdensome requirements” and the second “burdensome delays.”

The current background check process allows a gun purchase to proceed after three days, even if a background check has not been completed, said Democratic Representative James Clyburn from South Carolina, who sponsored Thursday’s bill.

He said that process resulted in 4,800 gun sales in 2017 to individuals with criminal records, a history of mental illness and other disqualifying circumstances.

“FBI analysis of the current background check system shows that 3 business days isn’t enough time to decide if someone shouldn’t be allowed to own a gun,” Clyburn said on Twitter.

His bill aims to close what Democrats call the “Charleston loophole” in the background check law by extending the window to complete a check to 10 days. They say the loophole allowed Dylann Roof to purchase the gun he used to kill nine people at a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015.

Representative Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, where the background check bills originated, on Thursday called them “misguided” and said “my constitutional rights could be deferred indefinitely.”

(Reporting by Amanda Becker; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Susan Thomas)

Florida’s gun debate persists a year after Parkland mass shooting

FILE PHOTO: A police officer Jamie Rubenstein stands guard in front of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, after the police security perimeter was removed, following a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – A year after Florida lawmakers rushed through far-reaching legislation on school safety and gun control in response to the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history, the state is on the verge of reopening the heart-wrenching debate.

Gun control advocates vow to block a recommendation to arm teachers, while conservatives aim to rescind the new gun restrictions. The opposing viewpoints are likely to create some tension when the Florida legislative session begins next month.

“A lot of those nerves are still raw, and there are still a lot of debates about all of these things,” said Max Eden, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute who is working on a book about the shooting with a victim’s father.

Massive student protests across the country reshaped the U.S. debate on firearms after a former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 people with a semiautomatic rifle in a five-and-a-half-minute shooting spree at the school on Feb. 14, 2018.

Twenty states passed some form of gun regulation last year, including nine states with a Republican governor, according to the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety.

Florida, one of the most gun-friendly states in the country, quickly imposed a three-day waiting period for gun purchases and raised the age limit for buying rifles from 18 to 21.

The law also required schools to place at least one armed staff member or law enforcement officer at each campus and retrofit classrooms with “hard corners,” which give students a place to seek cover from gunfire.

Since then, the sheriff of Broward County was dismissed, a special commission issued a 458-page report to examine what happened as well as make recommendations and schools across Florida have had nearly a year to implement the law’s requirements.

Even so, some schools have yet to fully comply with law.

“Broward County schools are not safer today than they were last year,” said state Senator Lauren Book, a Democrat who sat on the special commission and whose district includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

DEBATE OVER ARMING TEACHERS

Book has been critical of schools for not complying with the requirement of posting one armed defender on each campus, for failing to enact emergency “code red” procedures and the underreporting crime committed by students.

She does not, however, support the commission’s recommendation to allow classroom teachers who pass a 148-hour course to carry concealed firearms. Last year’s law permits some school personnel to carry weapons, but not in the classroom.

Arming teachers would require new legislation, and a leading gun-control advocacy group has made stopping that proposal a top priority.

“We don’t want guns in our classrooms,” said Gay Valimont, volunteer leader of the Florida chapter of Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America, which is funded by billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was among those killed in Parkland, supports arming the teachers.

“Whoever’s against it, they didn’t have a daughter begging for life on the third floor, hoping that someone was there to save her,” said Pollack, a Republican member of the state school board who is co-authoring the book with Eden.

Emboldened by sweeping electoral victories in 2018, Democratic lawmakers are pushing for even more gun control laws in statehouses nationwide this year.

Families of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas victims are also pushing for a 2020 ballot initiative to ban semiautomatic rifles similar to the one used in the 2018 attack.

Marion Hammer, the National Rifle Association’s lobbyist for Florida, said the gun rights group has not taken a position on legislation proposed in the state this year.

But she chastised Second Amendment supporters in the statehouse who “turned their backs on gun owners,” and voted for last year’s measure.

State Representative Mike Hill, a Republican, is sponsoring a bill to repeal the 2018 law’s firearms provisions, saying they were not properly vetted.

“Emotions were running high,” Hill said. “Instead of relying on looking at the facts, (lawmakers) instead let emotional mob rule control the day, and they voted for that measure.”

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; editing by Colleen Jenkins and G Crosse)

Americans support gun control but doubt lawmakers will act: Reuters

FILE PHOTO: A prospective buyer examines an AR-15 at the "Ready Gunner" gun store In Provo, Utah, U.S. in Provo, Utah, U.S., June 21, 2016. REUTERS/George Frey/File Photo

By Chris Kahn

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Most Americans want tougher gun laws but have little confidence their lawmakers will take action, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday ahead of the one-year anniversary of the country’s deadliest high school shooting.

The poll of more than 6,800 adults reflects widespread frustration with state and federal lawmakers after decades of mass shootings in the United States. The Feb. 14, 2018, attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 students and staff.

According to the poll, 69 percent of Americans, including 85 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans, want strong or moderate restrictions placed on firearms. To stop gun violence, 55 percent said they wanted policies that make it tougher to own guns, while 10 percent said making firearm ownership easier would be better.

The poll shows public support for strong firearms restrictions dipped slightly from a year ago, when the media was closely following the Parkland shooting, but overall support for gun restrictions has risen since the poll started asking about gun control in 2012.

Among those who want tougher gun laws now, only 14 percent said they were ‘very confident’ their representatives understood their views on firearms, and just 8 percent felt ‘very confident’ their elected representatives would do anything about it.

Taletha Whitley, 41, of Clayton, North Carolina, said lawmakers were too dependent on campaign contributions from gun rights groups to care about public opinion.

“It would take money out of their pockets to write gun control laws,” said Whitley, a Democrat who works in customer service for a local grocery chain. “That’s why they haven’t done anything about all of these mass shootings. It’s about the dollars.”

The findings underscore the challenges for gun safety advocates who, even after a banner legislative and electoral year in 2018, continue to push against the perception that the gun lobby commands the debate.

Gun control laws have been passed in 20 states since the Parkland shooting, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Gun control advocates also outspent the National Rifle Association during last year’s congressional elections, and 150 of the 196 candidates Everytown endorsed won their races for state and federal offices.

Shannon Watts, who founded Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America after the 2012 elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, said it has taken years to build a community of activists capable of taking on the NRA. After an effort to overhaul gun laws failed in 2013, Watts continued to recruit volunteers and aligned her organization with Everytown to build a network that now has a chapter in every state.

“You cannot underestimate the significance of hundreds of thousands of volunteers telling their lawmaker you have to do the right thing,” Watts said. “We tell them that when you do we’ll have your back, and when you don’t we’ll have your job.”

Watts and others are taking advantage of a drop in activity among gun rights advocates, who have been operating with less urgency now that they have an ally in the White House.

The NRA concedes that fundraising has fallen since Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in November 2016 but said gun control groups were overplaying their hand with some of their agenda.

“There’s less to do because we’ve been so successful over the years,” NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said. “We continue to defeat gun control legislation across the country while passing gun rights legislation.”

BIPARTISAN SUPPORT FOR GUN CONTROL

The poll found rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans largely agree on a variety of gun-control measures, including a ban on internet sales of ammunition, stopping people with a history of mental illness from buying guns, placing armed guards at schools and expanding background checks at gun shows.

Among parents with school-age children, 65 percent said they were somewhat or very worried about gun violence in schools, and a majority of those parents were supportive of efforts intended to beef up school security.

Sixty-one percent of parents said they favored publicly funding firearms training for teachers and school personnel, and 54 percent said they approved of allowing school personnel to carry guns.

Irfan Rydhan, 44, of San Jose, California, favors strong firearms restrictions but said he did not seriously think about gun control until earlier this year when he enrolled his 6-year-old in kindergarten.

“Obviously there’s a lot of anxiety that comes with dropping your kid off at public school, and there’s no one really watching him all the time,” said Rydhan, a poll respondent. “It makes you want to be more proactive about his safety.”

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English between Jan. 11 and Jan. 28 throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 6,813 adults, including 2,701 who identified as Democrats and 2,359 who identified as Republicans. It has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

(Reporting by Chris Kahn; Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Tom Brown)

House panel plans action on gun background check bill next week

FILE PHOTO: A prospective buyer examines an AR-15 at the "Ready Gunner" gun store In Provo, Utah, U.S. in Provo, Utah, U.S., June 21, 2016. REUTERS/George Frey/File Photo

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee will take up legislation next week that would require universal background checks for gun buyers, the panel’s Democratic chairman said on Thursday.

The panel will mark up the bill, known as the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, on Feb. 13 and send it to the House floor for a vote, committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler told a news conference. The legislation has 230 House co-sponsors, including five Republicans.

“It’s finally time for action in Congress,” Nadler said. “This bill will close the loopholes that have allowed felons, domestic violence abusers and other prohibited persons to purchase guns through private sales.”

The bill would require background checks for all firearm sales and most firearm transfers. The legislation would likely pass the Democratic-controlled House. But there are no signs that it would succeed in the Republican-led Senate.

Nadler’s announcement came a day after the House Judiciary Committee held the first congressional hearing on gun violence in years and heard testimony from witnesses including Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, who voiced support for the legislation.

Gun violence represents an epidemic that claimed the lives of nearly 40,000 Americans in 2017. Of those deaths, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in December that 60 percent were self-inflicted.

The U.S. Constitution protects the right of Americans to bear arms. The measure is fiercely defended by Republicans.

At Wednesday’s House hearing, Republican lawmakers warned that the new legislation could lead to a national gun registry and asserted that expanded background checks would penalize law abiding citizens but not protect people from gun crime.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Tom Brown)