Senate Democrats held a hearing Wednesday in which students, parents, and others pushed for Congress to enact tougher gun control measures in order to help prevent school shootings and protect children from gun violence.
Since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last month, Democratic lawmakers and others, including student activists, have been lobbying to restrict access to certain firearms and enact other measures to prevent similar mass shootings.
It’s far from certain, however, that Congress will get on board with those kinds of proposals. And Democrats told those providing comments at the hearing that while they deserved to be heard, the Republican majorities on Capitol Hill so far would not let them and other advocates speak at official hearings.
“Parkland represents the American Dream. Parkland is the last place where I’d expect something like this to happen,” said David Hogg, a Stoneman Douglas student and one of the most outspoken voices from the school in favor of gun control. (Hogg spoke at the hearing remotely.) “We have become so habituated to this kind of thing in the United States.”
Hogg listed several changes to federal policy on guns that he supported, including restoring funding for research on guns at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; universal background checks, which he called “just sensible gun reform"; and some kind of change to access to guns like the AR-15 used in the Parkland shooting, in order to “prevent these huge guns from getting into the hands of the wrong individuals.”
Others speaking to the lawmakers included those impacted by shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, and at Virginia Tech in 2007. And Eva Jones, a high school student in Hood River, Ore., warned against focusing on school security as a solution, which she said would only turn schools into prisons: “I plan where I would hide in the case of a school shooting.”
Democatic senators at the hearing said they backed the advocates at the meeting and said they would push to bolster gun control.
“Congress has been complicit by its inaction” on gun violence, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said early in the hearing.
The hearing was hosted by the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, which doesn’t have the power to officially consider or pass legislation.
Earlier in the day, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited Stoneman Douglas to pay her respects to the school community. In remarks afterward to the press, DeVos said schools should have the option of arming well-trained school staff to protect students. She did not mention gun control.
State of Play in Congress
New gun-control legislation could face a very difficult if not impossible road to success in Congress, even though President Donald Trump has at times indicated support for some new restrictions on access to firearms. However, school safety legislation is getting a more favorable look from lawmakers. Trump has proposed arming teachers who have training with guns, and he also wants to “harden” schools to make them more secure against threats.
The GOP majority in Congress has focused on school safety since the Parkland shooting.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said that next week, his chamber will vote on the STOP School Violence Act. This bill aims to provide more training to educators and others about preventing violence in schools. It would also help develop anonymous reporting systems for students and others to report those they think might pose a danger to schools. And it would reauthorize the Community Oriented Policing Services Secure Our Schools grant program through fiscal 2028.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has introduced his own version of the STOP School Violence Act, and it is similar to the House bill that shares its name.
And Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., introduced a bill designed to encourage schools to spend more on school counselors and other preventive measures.
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