Senate's top Democrat wants Congress to pass universal background checks in response to Parkland

Schumer: Bill to 'fix' the system is not enough

By TED BARRETT, CNN
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (2nd L) (D-NY) walks with fellow Democratic senators to a press conference following the weekly policy luncheons at the U.S. Capitol on February 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. 

(CNN) - Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer warned Monday that it would be an "abject failure and dereliction of duty" if all Congress approves in the wake of another mass shooting is a bill that would improve the nation's background check system, complicating the prospects for Congress passing any legislation.

Schumer, a longtime gun control advocate, said that "at a minimum," Congress should enact "universal background checks" for gun purchases in the wake of the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut reintroduced a bill to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Schumer stated Monday that passing that proposal is not enough, calling for a more in-depth background check process -- and showing just how difficult it is for anything in Congress related to guns to advance.

"Democrats are pleased to hear that the president recognizes the need to strengthen the Fix NICS bill. If all Congress does in response to the Parkland shooting is to pass the Fix NICS bill, it would be an abject failure and a dereliction of our duty," Schumer said in a statement

"Democrats believe that, at a minimum, the Congressional response to the Parkland shooting should include universal background check legislation that would close the gun show and internet sales loopholes that allow guns to fall into the wrong hands," he added.

Schumer's comments came as Congress returns to work following a weeklong recess. While it was away, the shooting, which was carried out by a former student with an AR-15 style semiautomatic rifle, dominated the national debate.

Cornyn responded to Schumer's comments Monday afternoon by telling reporters, "I'm for doing what's achievable."

"If they want to get bogged down again and do nothing, to me that's unacceptable," Cornyn said. Asked if he thought Fix NICs was the only proposal that could possibly pass, he said, "To me that's the most obvious place to start."

Bipartisan lawmakers -- along with President Donald Trump -- said they wanted to take legislative action to respond to the tragedy but there are deep divisions between the parties about how far reaching that legislation should be.

Many Republicans oppose the broader background checks Schumer is calling for and a similar effort was defeated in 2013 following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut when it was part of a bill that would have also banned assault weapons and limited magazine capacity. Several Democrats also voted against that bill.

Democrats would have the votes to block the Fix NICS bill if they banded together and insisted it not pass without universal background checks included. But it's not clear if they will choose to do that because it could mean nothing passes Congress.

Senate Democrats will caucus Tuesday at their weekly policy lunch and may reach a consensus on a path forward at that time.

The bipartisan Fix NICS bill is one of the leading proposals under discussion by Trump and lawmakers following the Florida shooting. It has already passed the House, although it was tied to a controversial conceal-carry measure that Senate Democrats oppose. Fix NICS would encourage states and federal agencies, including the military, to improve compliance with reporting information to NICS about people who should be disqualified from buying guns.

The other proposals deal with raising the minimum age from 18 to 21 to be able to buy a rifle -- something Trump seems to have embraced even though some Republican lawmakers and the powerful National Rifle Association oppose the idea -- as well as legislation banning bump fire stocks, the accessory that allows a semiautomatic weapon to fire more like an automatic weapon. Trump and the NRA also have said they oppose these devices but there is a debate over whether they should be banned legislatively or through a rule-making process carried out by the administration.

"It is our hope that Republican leaders will help pass real legislation that makes a difference, rather than NRA-backed bills that make Republicans feel better without meaningfully addressing the issue of gun safety," Schumer said. "We can't afford a bill that is simply aimed at pleasing the NRA but doesn't get the job done, we need real results."

This story has been updated.

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