Thousands of armed U.S. gun rights activists join peaceful Virginia rally

By Brad Brooks

RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) – More than 22,000 armed gun-rights activists peacefully filled the streets around Virginia’s capitol building on Monday to protest gun-control legislation making its way through the newly Democratic-controlled state legislature.

Despite fears that neo-Nazis or other extremists would piggyback on the Richmond rally to stoke unrest like the violence at a 2017 demonstration by white nationalists in Charlottesville that killed a counter-protester, the Capitol Police reported just one arrest, a 21-year-old woman taken into custody for wearing a bandana over her face after twice being warned that masks were not allowed.

Chants of “USA! USA! USA!” and others praising President Donald Trump reverberated as men and women carrying handguns and rifles squeezed into the streets around the Virginia state capitol, standing shoulder-to-shoulder for three blocks in all directions.

There was a heavy security presence after Governor Ralph Northam banned carrying weapons onto the capitol grounds and the FBI earlier last week arrested three alleged neo-Nazis who it said intended to use the event to spark a race war.

But by 1 p.m. ET, nearly all rally-goers had left the area, with volunteers picking up trash left behind. The Capitol Police estimated the crowd at 22,000 people.

Activists at the rally organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League argued that Virginia was trying to infringe on their right to bear arms, which is protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“What’s going on here, if not stopped, will spread to other states,” said Teri Horne, who had traveled to Virginia from her home in Texas with her Smith & Wesson rifle and .40-caliber handgun. “They will come for our guns in other states if we don’t stop them in Virginia.”

Northam, a Democrat, has vowed to push through new gun control laws and is backing a package of eight bills, including universal background checks, a “red flag” law, a ban on assault-style rifles and a limit of one handgun-a-month purchase. It does not call for confiscating guns currently legally owned.

It is not his first attempt. He called a special legislative session last year after the massacre of 12 people in Virginia Beach, but the Republicans who then controlled the legislature ended that meeting without a vote.

State Democratic leaders and activists believe that move contributed to the November victories that gave them control of both chambers.

A group of 13 student activists from March For Our Lives, a gun-control group, slept inside the capitol building on Sunday night ahead of impromptu meetings with lawmakers to encourage them to pass the legislation.

“A lot of the protesters outside have a really extreme reading of the Second Amendment,” Eve Levenson, a 20-year-old political science student at George Washington University, said in a telephone interview. “What we’re fighting for is common-sense laws that are proven to work and are already effective in other states.”

T-SHIRTS AND TRUMP

Many in the crowds dressed in camouflage or tactical gear. Some browsed vendors’ pro-gun T-shirts and other merchandise, much of it carrying slogans supporting Trump, who has sharply criticized the gun-control proposals.

The president weighed in again on the Virginia situation on Monday.

“The Democrat Party in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia are working hard to take away your 2nd Amendment rights,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “This is just the beginning. Don’t let it happen, VOTE REPUBLICAN in 2020!”

People across the United States were focused on the Virginia gun issue, said Philip Van Cleave, leader of the Virginia Citizens Defense League.

“They don’t want us to fail in stopping this,” Van Cleave said on Sunday. “We’ve gotten huge donations from other states.”

“The Virginia election last November was an indictment of guns, and it was not an outlier,” said Christian Heyne, who leads legislative efforts at the gun violence prevention group Brady. “Virginia candidates flipped things on their head when they won because of the gun issue, not despite it.”

The state’s gun owners responded with a movement to create “sanctuary cities” for gun rights, with local government bodies in nearly all 95 counties passing declarations not to enforce new gun laws.

Grayson County Sheriff Richard Vaughan, who is from a sanctuary county, held aloft a banner supporting the Second Amendment on a street in front of the capitol.

“Some of these bills being proposed are just unconstitutional and we will not enforce them,” Vaughan said. “As a sheriff I am the last line of defense between law-abiding gun owners and the politicians who want to take away their rights.”

The sanctuary idea has quickly spread across the United States, with over 200 local governments in 16 states passing such measures.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks; Additional reporting by Jonathan Drake and Julia Harte; Writing by Brad Brooks and Jonathan Allen; Editing by Scott Malone and Daniel Wallis)

Demonstrators gather as U.S. Supreme Court hears major gun case

Demonstrators gather as U.S. Supreme Court hears major gun case
By Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A legal fight over a New York City handgun ordinance that could give the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority a chance to expand gun rights goes before the nine justices on Monday in one of the most closely watched cases of their current term.

The court is scheduled to hear arguments starting at 10 a.m. (1500 GMT) in a legal challenge backed by the influential National Rifle Association gun rights lobby group to a regulation that had prevented licensed owners from taking their handguns outside the confines of the most-populous U.S. city.

It is the first major gun case to come before the Supreme Court since 2010.

Three local handgun owners and the New York state affiliate of the NRA – a national lobby group closely aligned with President Donald Trump and other Republicans – argued that the regulation violated the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

New York City’s regulation was amended in July to loosen the restrictions at issue in the case, but the Supreme Court opted to proceed with the arguments anyway. The justices have said they will consider during the arguments the city’s contention that the change in the regulation has made the matter moot.

Outside the white marble courthouse, hundreds of gun control supporters held a demonstration and carried signs including some reading, “Why are guns easier to buy than a college education?” “Gun laws save lives” and “2nd Amendment written before assault weapons were invented.”

Maryland resident Christina Young said such laws need to reflect modern society, including mass shootings.

“I have an 11-year-old daughter. I never had to worry about guns in my school when I was a kid,” Young said.

Amid the crowd, one gun rights supporter held high a large sign demanding Second Amendment rights.

Gun control advocates have expressed concern that the court, with a 5-4 conservative majority, could use the legal battle over a now-loosened gun control regulation unique to one city to issue a ruling widening gun rights nationwide.

Such a ruling could jeopardize a variety of firearms restrictions passed in recent years by state and local governments across the country, including expanded background checks and confiscations of weapons from individuals who a court has deemed dangerous, according to these advocates.

The dispute centers on New York City’s handgun “premises” licenses that allowed holders to transport their firearms only to a handful of shooting ranges within the city, and to hunting areas elsewhere in the state during designated hunting seasons.

The plaintiffs filed suit in 2013 after they were told by authorities they could not participate in a shooting competition in New Jersey or bring their guns to a home elsewhere in the state. The Manhattan-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the regulation advanced the city’s interest in protecting public safety and did not violate the Second Amendment.

GUN CONTROL LAWS PROLIFERATE

Gun control is a contentious issue in the United States, which has experienced numerous mass shootings. Since 2013, 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted more than 300 gun control laws, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Republican opposition in Congress has been instrumental in thwarting passage of new federal laws.

New York City officials have argued that controlling guns in public takes on particular urgency in the most densely populated urban center in the United States, where the potential for violence, accidents or thefts is heightened.

The regulation dated back to 2001 when New York police tightened handgun transport rules because officers had observed license holders improperly traveling with loaded firearms or with their firearms far from any authorized range.

The city argued that the rule did not prevent training as there are plenty of ranges at which to practice within the city, and individuals could rent firearms at competitions farther afield. The rule also did not prevent homeowners from keeping a separate handgun at a second home outside the city.

The Supreme Court had avoided taking up a major firearms case since 2010, when it extended to state and local regulations a 2008 ruling that recognized for the first time that the Second Amendment protects a person’s right to keep a gun at home for self-defense.

The challengers have said that the history and tradition of the Second Amendment makes clear that the right extends beyond the home. They also are asking the Supreme Court to require lower courts to more strictly review gun curbs, with an eye toward striking them down.

The court’s ruling is due by the end of June.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. chief justice rejects bid to block ‘bump stocks’ gun ban

FILE PHOTO: A bump fire stock 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) – U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday rejected a bid by gun rights activists to put on hold a ban by President Donald Trump’s administration on “bump stock” gun attachments that enable semi-automatic weapons to be fired rapidly.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor has not yet acted on another similar request. The ban goes into effect on Tuesday but lower courts have yet to rule on an appeal brought by gun rights activists in Michigan and the U.S. capital.

Trump pledged to ban the devices soon after a gunman used them to shoot and kill 58 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas in October 2017. The Justice Department on Dec. 18 announced plans to implement the policy.

A Washington-based federal district court judge in February upheld the ban, prompting gun rights advocates to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. That court heard oral arguments on Friday but has not yet ruled. The appeals court, however, say that the ban cannot go into effect in relation to the specific individuals and groups challenging it.

The action by Roberts concerned only the Washington case. The challengers in the Washington case include individual gun owners and gun rights groups such as the Firearms Policy Foundation and Florida Carry Inc.

In the Michigan case, a federal district court judge last week ruled in favor of the administration. The challengers include individuals and the gun rights group Gun Owners of America. The Cincinnati, Ohio-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday refused to put the ban on hold pending appeal.

Sotomayor is now weighing an emergency request in that case.

On the day the administration announced plans to put the policy in place, gun rights advocates sued in federal court to challenge it. They have argued that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) lacks the authority to equate bump stocks with machine guns under decades-old law.

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.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Report into deadliest U.S. high school shooting calls for arming teachers, more security

Pictures of Joaquin Oliver and Aaron Feis, victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, are seen on a cross placed in a park to commemorate the victims, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Arm teachers, spend more on school security and mental health and train police to be more aggressive when responding to school shootings — those are some of the recommendations in a report into the deadliest U.S. high school shooting released Wednesday.

The 485-page report into the Parkland, Florida school massacre, that left 14 students and three adults dead at the hands of a lone gunman in February 2018, will be studied by Florida Governor Rick Scott, Governor-elect Ron DeSantis and a state commission charged with finding ways to prevent another school shooting massacre.

The report, by the state-appointed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, finds a cascade of errors from law enforcement officers holding back as shots were fired and lax school security that allowed a former student with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle access to the campus.

FILE PHOTO: An empty chair is seen in front of flowers and mementoes placed on a fence to commemorate the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

FILE PHOTO: An empty chair is seen in front of flowers and mementoes placed on a fence to commemorate the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

The Parkland shooting has sparked a national debate about school security, gun-rights, and fueled a student-led movement calling for more gun-control, called Never Again MSD, after the school’s initials.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, chairman of the school safety commission, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that there needs to be a sense of urgency in implementing change in school security.

“When you send your kids to school in the morning, there’s an expectation they’re going to come home alive in the afternoon,” Gualtieri told the newspaper.

He also said he strongly supported the idea of arming some gun-trained teachers.

But not everyone on the 16-member commission agreed with all of its findings.

Commission member Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was killed at Stoneman Douglas, told the Sun Sentinel that she opposes the idea of arming teachers.

“Teachers want to teach,” she told the newspaper. “That’s their expertise. Law enforcement, their expertise is supposed to be to engage the threat.”

The report was critical of a perceived slow response from law enforcement officers who waited outside the school buildings while shots were still being fired.

Other recommendations included more funding for mental health services for students, creating safe areas at schools where students can hide from a potential gunman, locking school perimeter gates while school is in session and requiring law enforcement officers to immediately seek out a shooter instead of hanging back.

The report acknowledges that more money is needed to implement the recommendations.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Michael Perry)

Connecticut school evacuated for bomb threat on sixth anniversary of massacre

FILE PHOTO: The sign for the new Sandy Hook Elementary School at the end of the drive leading to the school is pictured in Newtown, Connecticut, U.S. July 29, 2016. REUTERS/Michelle McLoughlin/File Photo

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – A bomb threat prompted the evacuation of a Connecticut elementary school on the site of the deadliest public-school shooting in U.S. history on Friday, the sixth anniversary of the massacre, police said.

Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where 26 children and educators were killed in 2012, received a threatening phone call around 9 a.m. EST, said police Lieutenant Aaron Bahamonde.

“It was a bomb threat over the phone,” Bahamonde said. About 400 people were evacuated, he said. No bomb was found.

Bahamonde said the threat was unrelated to a Thursday incident in which hundreds of schools, businesses and buildings across the United States and Canada receive email bomb threats demanding payment in cryptocurrency. Authorities dismissed those threats as a hoax.

On Dec. 14, 2012, a 21-year-old gunman killed 20 young children and six educators at Sandy Hook before taking his own life. The building where the massacre took place was torn down, and Sandy Hook students now attend classes in a new facility.

The mass shooting inflamed the long-running U.S. debate on gun rights, which are protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The United States has experienced a string of deadly mass shootings since that attack, including one at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in February that left 17 people dead.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Waffle House shooting shows pitfalls in patchwork of U.S. gun laws

FILE PHOTO: Metro Davidson County Police inspect the scene of a fatal shooting at a Waffle House restaurant near Nashville, Tennessee, U.S., April 22, 2018. REUTERS/Harrison McClary

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – When Travis Reinking’s semi-automatic rifle was confiscated after his attempt to enter the White House last year, he simply moved from Illinois to nearby Tennessee where signs of mental illness are no bar to gun ownership.

How and when Reinking’s father returned the AR-15-style weapon and other firearms to his 29-year-old son, accused of shooting dead four people and wounding four at a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee remain unclear.

Confusing as well are the myriad of U.S. state gun laws that can make it difficult to stop crimes like Sunday’s mass shooting.

The U.S. federal system leaves it up to states to set most gun laws. Less than half of U.S. states require background checks before private sales, and only a small number require “universal checks” for all purchases, including at gun shows.

Virginia has improved mental health reporting after a 2007 college campus massacre but has no laws requiring firearms to be registered. Alaska, with the highest state rate of gun deaths per capita, does not allow firearms to be registered. Most states let residents carry firearms in public, and all states permit the carrying of concealed weapons in some form.

The assault on Sunday is the latest mass killing to stoke a fierce debate that pits gun control proponents against gun rights advocates who defend constitutional rights to own guns.

The debate has sharpened since the Feb. 14 shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school. That massacre prompted an upsurge of teenage gun control activism, including a nationwide student walkout on April 20, two days before the Nashville shooting.

The discussion has aired demands for national laws that would provide uniformity, including regulations on the transport of guns from state to state, as with the Reinking case.

“We need to have national laws that protect against these over-the-border kinds of transfers,” said Illinois state Representative Kathleen Willis, a Democrat who is sponsoring “red flag” legislation to let family members request the seizure of firearms from relatives facing mental health problems.

MENTAL ILLNESS

The variety of ways that gun laws address mental illness has prompted concern. A study by Mother Jones magazine showed that in 62 mass shootings between 1982 and 2012, 38 of the shooters displayed signs of mental health problems before the killings.

Reinking himself has a troubled past. He believed that pop singer Taylor Swift was stalking him and threatened to kill himself, according to police records.

The National Rifle Association, the country’s most powerful gun-rights lobbying organization, says it supports legislation to ensure records of those judged mentally incompetent or “involuntarily committed to mental institutions” be made available for use in firearms transfer background checks.

“The NRA will support any reasonable step to fix America’s broken mental health system without intruding on the constitutional rights of Americans,” the group says on its website.

That support stops short of legislation like Willis’ red flag bill with its “insinuation that gun ownership makes you a danger to yourself or others,” the group said last month.

Illinois is unusual in giving law enforcement the right to revoke a gun license and take away guns from persons if their mental health appears to pose a danger. In Tennessee, like most states, police can only seize guns if a person is involuntarily committed to a mental health facility and judged a danger. Even then, the owner can keep their firearms.

In Reinking’s case, Illinois state police revoked his gun license, and his firearms were transferred to his father after U.S. Secret Service agents arrested him last year for being in a restricted area near the White House.

Authorities have not disclosed whether his father gave him back his guns in Illinois, where it would likely be a crime, or in Tennessee, where it would not.

The U.S. Congress has not passed any substantive national gun laws since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, due in large part to opposition from gun-rights groups.

Yet some gun-control advocates see steady movement towards uniform gun laws through actions at the state level.

“Our movement is chipping away and convincing lawmakers that they should be voting for public safety,” said Jonas Oransky deputy legal director of gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety.

For example, after the Waffle House shooting, Tennessee lawmakers drafted legislation to make it illegal to buy or possess a gun if a person had been subject to “suspension, revocation or confiscation” in another state.

For Illinois lawmaker Willis, it is too little too late.

“All the red flags were there. They followed all the gun laws in Illinois,” she said. “Until we have national laws to restrict this, it’s not going to stop.”

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Cynthia Osterman)

Trump throws gun purchase age to states, courts

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in support of Republican congressional candidate Rick Sacconne during a Make America Great Again rally in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, U.S., March 10, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said he would wait for the courts to rule before acting on raising the minimum age for some gun purchases, putting off one of the more contentious gun safety measures he had backed after the latest U.S. school shooting.

The proposal to raise the minimum age for buying guns from 18 to 21 was not part of a modest set of gun safety proposals announced on Sunday night by Trump administration officials, which included training teachers to carry guns in schools and improving background checks.

“On 18 to 21 Age Limits, watching court cases and rulings before acting. States are making this decision. Things are moving rapidly on this, but not much political support (to put it mildly),” he wrote on Twitter.

Trump has said he believes armed teachers would deter school shootings and better protect students when they happen. The idea, already in place in some states, is backed by the National Rifle Association gun lobby.

The Republican president, who championed gun rights during his 2016 campaign, vowed to take action to prevent school shootings after a gunman killed 17 students and faculty at a high school in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14.

The modest fixes proposed by the White House stepped back from some of the more sweeping changes Trump had considered after the latest school shooting.

Some of the more controversial proposals, including raising the minimum purchase age or requiring background checks for guns bought at gun shows or on the internet, will be studied by a commission headed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, administration officials said.

The Justice Department will also provide an unspecified amount of grants to states that want to train teachers to carry guns in school.

Asked why the age limit proposal was dropped from the administration plan, DeVos told NBC’s “Today” show on Monday that the plan was the first step in a lengthy process.

“Everything is on the table,” she said.

On arming teachers, DeVos said communities should have the tool “but nobody should be mandated to do it.”

Trump has also directed the Justice Department to write new regulations banning so-called bump stocks, devices that turn firearms into machine guns.

“Very strong improvement and strengthening of background checks will be fully backed by White House. Legislation moving forward. Bump Stocks will soon be out. Highly trained expert teachers will be allowed to conceal carry, subject to State Law. Armed guards OK, deterrent!” Trump tweeted earlier Monday.

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

What’s in play in Washington on gun rights after Florida school shooting

Messages, posted on a fence, hang, as students and parents attend a voluntary campus orientation at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, for the coming Wednesday's reopening, following last week's mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, February 25, 2018. REUTERS/Angel Valentin

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican who has frequently pledged support for gun rights, is considering some changes to gun laws and other safety measures after the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 people.

Here are the proposals in play for Trump, who faces pressure to act from student activists pushing for tougher gun laws, as well as opposition from gun owners, the politically powerful National Rifle Association, and Republicans worried about how the issue will shape congressional elections in November.

TIGHTER BACKGROUND CHECKS

Trump supports a bill that would strengthen a database of people who are not legally allowed to buy guns. The bill would provide incentives for federal agencies and states to upload more data into the system.

Some Republican senators have already expressed concerns that errors in the expanded data could prevent some people from legally exercising their constitutional rights to own guns.

One potential snag: the House of Representatives has already passed a version of the bill that includes a measure allowing people to bring legal concealed guns across state lines. The Senate would likely balk at the provision.

Trump has not given his opinion on a proposal to require background checks at gun shows or on internet sites, which has been a way around the background checks conducted for sales in stores. This idea has failed twice in the past five years to find enough backing in the Senate.

AGE LIMITS

Trump said last week he wanted to restrict gun sales to people aged 21 and over. Currently, 18-year-olds can buy many types of guns.

He has subsequently been silent on that idea. The White House said details are being studied. Republicans in Congress, where they control both the House and Senate, have shown little appetite for the measure.

FUNDS FOR THREAT DETECTION

Trump supports a bill that provides schools with funding for training to identify warning signs for violence, anonymous tip lines, and other measures to boost school safety. There is broad bipartisan support for the measures.

BUMP STOCKS

Trump has asked his administration to craft regulations to effectively ban sales of “bump stock” accessories that enable semiautomatic rifles to fire hundreds of rounds a minute.

Banning bump stocks, which were not used in the Florida shooting but were used in a massacre in Las Vegas in October, has been studied in the past and deemed to require action by Congress. New regulations could be tied up with lawsuits. There is little momentum in Congress to change the law.

ARMING TEACHERS

Trump is most enthusiastic about the idea of training certain teachers and staff to carry concealed guns, which he said would the most cost-effective way to protect students in the event of a shooting. He said he believes potential school shooters would be deterred by knowing some teachers are armed.

This proposal falls in the jurisdiction of state and local governments, a point that Trump and Republican lawmakers have emphasized. The idea has been adopted in Texas and some other states, but teachers’ unions and some law enforcement groups have panned it.

MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES

Trump has said he would address mental health, but has not provided specific ideas. He has bemoaned the lack of mental institutions to treat people who may be violent.

Congress is likely to direct new funds to mental health under a 2016-passed law that authorizes money to move forward for the first time this year.

‘RED FLAG’ LAWS

Some states have laws allowing police to temporarily seize guns from people reported to be dangerous. Trump has not expressed opinions on the idea. There is not currently a broadly backed push in Congress to create similar laws at the federal level.

BAN ON SEMIAUTOMATIC RIFLES

Students who survived the Florida shooting, gun control groups and many Democrats want a federal ban on semiautomatic rifles, sometimes called assault rifles. There was a federal ban on assault-style weapons from 1994-2004, but there is little support for a renewed ban among Republicans. Trump has not discussed it.

MOVIES AND VIDEOGAMES

Trump has expressed concern that children are exposed to too much violence in movies and videogames, but has not made any specific proposals on the topic.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Frances Kerry)

Trump backs effort to improve gun background checks: White House

Placards and letters are shown, signed by worshipers at Christ Church United Methodist Church in response to shootings in nearby Parkland, Florida which will be sent to legislators and officials in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

By Jeff Mason

PALM BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – The White House said on Monday that President Donald Trump supports efforts to improve federal background checks for gun purchases, days after a shooting at a Florida school killed 17 people.

Trump spoke to Senator John Cornyn, a Republican, on Friday about a bi-partisan bill that he and Democratic Senator Chris Murphy introduced to improve federal compliance with criminal background checks, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

“While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system,” Sanders said in a statement.

Previous mass shootings in the United States have also stirred outrage and calls for action to tighten U.S. gun laws, with few results in Congress.

Students are mobilizing around the country in favor of stronger gun laws after the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history took place on Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a former student is accused of murdering 17 people using an assault-style rifle.

Trump, who visited survivors of the shooting and law enforcement officials on Friday night, is a strong supporter of gun rights and won the endorsement of the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobby group, for his 2016 presidential campaign.

Many Republicans generally oppose measures to tighten gun restrictions, citing the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment protection of the right to bear arms.

Former President Barack Obama and many of his fellow Democrats unsuccessfully pushed to pass gun control legislation after a gunman killed 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.

Cornyn and Murphy introduced their bill to improve federal background checks last November, days after a gunman killed more than two dozen people in a church in Texas.

The bill, called the Fix NICS Act, would ensure that states and federal agencies comply with existing law on reporting criminal history records to the national background check system.

Cornyn, of Texas, had complained when introducing the legislation that compliance by agencies was “lousy.”

Students are planning a “March For Our Lives” in Washington on March 24 to call attention to school safety and ask lawmakers to enact gun control.

Some students reacted with caution to Trump’s support on background checks.

“We want to prevent mass shootings from happening and while this could have happened with other types of weapons, NeverAgain believes school safety should be priority right now, not just background checks,” said Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Kali Clougherty, 18, referring to a campaign for gun control. “This is about the victims. Don’t forget that, we never will.”

(Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner in Washington and Katanga Johnson in Florida; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Bill letting people bring concealed guns across state lines passes U.S. House

Bill letting people bring concealed guns across state lines passes U.S. House

By Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – People would be able to bring legal, concealed guns into any U.S. state under legislation the House of Representatives approved on Wednesday that would also bolster the national background check system and require a study of the “bump stocks” used in October’s Las Vegas mass shooting.

The country’s long-standing fight over gun ownership has grown more heated since a single person killed 58 people and injured more than 500 at a music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, the deadliest mass shooting carried out by an individual in U.S. history. Stephen Paddock boosted his firearms with bump stocks to shoot thousands of bullets over 10 minutes.

On a vote of 231 to 198, the Republican-led House approved the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would require states to recognize each others’ permits for carrying hidden and loaded firearms while in public.

States’ requirements on concealed guns vary widely. Some states deny permits to people who have committed domestic violence or other crimes. Eight do not require permits at all.

Supporters of the bill, which still must be approved by the Senate, say states recognize each others’ drivers licenses and other permits, making concealed-carry permits the exception.

Detractors say the bill tramples states’ rights and that gun permits differ from drivers’ licenses, which are generally uniform across the country. They also say that, under the legislation, gun owners will only have to abide by requirements of the most lenient states.

The bill passed eight days before the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting in which 20 children and six adults perished. So far this year, 14,412 people have died and 29,277 have been injured in firearm-related incidents in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive. About 8 percent of them were children and teenagers.

Bill supporters also pointed to last month’s Texas shooting, where a man fired his rifle on a fleeing gunman who had just killed 26 worshippers at a church. The gunman was later found dead in his car.

“We know that citizens who carry a concealed firearm are not only better prepared to act in their own self-defense, but also in the defense of others,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican.

The legislation also included a bipartisan measure to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Meanwhile, the Justice Department has already begun studying bump stocks, and could soon ban them.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by James Dalgleish)