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Without Policy Consensus, National Gun Control Debate Still Lacks Action


We're going to turn now to domestic politics because more than 10 days after 17 people were killed by a gunman in Parkland, Fla., the debate over whether and how to strengthen the nation's gun laws continues. President Trump has proposed arming teachers. Florida Governor Rick Scott suggests raising the age at which someone can buy an assault-style weapon from 18 up to 21. So after another horrific shooting, is there an actual groundswell for action? With us to discuss this more is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hello, Mara.


MCCAMMON: So, Mara, Congress is back in session tomorrow after a week-long recess. Where does the gun debate stand today?

LIASSON: Republicans clearly want to be seen as doing something, but there's still no policy consensus on what to do. But on the Sunday shows today, there was no clamoring by congressional Republicans for anything specific. Some were willing to support a ban on some types of mass-casualty, assault-style weapons - others weren't. Some favored a higher age limit for buying long guns - others didn't. And that suggests we might be following the same path we've seen after other mass shootings - support for gun control spikes. A lot of talk about it. But in the end, no action by Congress, and then interest fades.

MCCAMMON: On that note, one prominent Republican voice on gun laws is Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey. On NBC's "Meet The Press" today, he said President Trump will be essential if any new gun laws are to pass.


PAT TOOMEY: The president's expression of support for strengthening our background check system is very constructive. The president can play a huge - and, in fact, probably decisive - role in this. So I intend to give this another shot.

MCCAMMON: Mara, what does President Trump want from gun legislation?

LIASSON: What he said is he wants to be very strong. There's a bill in the House that tweaks the background checks system. It would be much weaker than Pat Toomey's bill, which would have made background checks universal. He's also said he wants the ATF to ban bump stocks, although the ATF says it doesn't have the authority to do so and that Congress would need to pass a law. Of course, today, on television, the NRA spokeswoman, Dana Loesch, said the NRA doesn't back a bump stock ban. And of course, that was supposed to be the legislative solution after the last mass shooting, the one in Las Vegas.

But the main thing that the president has been talking about is arming some teachers. That's a proposal the NRA has backed, but it hasn't gone through the policy process, hasn't been vetted - there's no legislation in Congress, and the White House spokesman said the president won't necessarily propose any legislation. We already saw the good guy with a gun - that sheriff's deputy in Florida - not able or willing to stop the bad guy with a gun. So there's still a lot of questions about how arming some teachers would work and even what role the federal government would play since K-12 education is a state responsibility. So we still need to see if the president is willing to use his political capital for something specific.

MCCAMMON: One thing that's been different since the shooting in Parkland is we've seen these students become practically household names overnight because of their activism for gun control. We saw that incredibly emotional and powerful town hall last week. And we've seen major corporations backing away from the NRA. Is any of this a sign that we have indeed reached a political tipping point in the gun debate?

LIASSON: I don't know. I don't think you can see tipping points until they already have happened. Usually, you see them in the rearview mirror. But we're waiting to find out a couple of things. Number one, will the Florida families who have been galvanized by this - will they be happy with just minor tweaks from the Florida legislature or will they really insist on some kind of ban on certain types of mass-casualty assault weapons? And then, if nothing happens, will they become another source of energy for Democrats in the fall? Corporate America, on the other hand, doesn't take sides in political battles for any other reason other than their bottom line. So if corporate America does think the NRA has overstepped its hand and this kind of movement to sever ties with them continues, then I think something is really changing.

MCCAMMON: That's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF UYAMA HIROTO'S "81 AUTUMN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.