Trump inches toward better gun control

In November, we published an editorial with the optimistic headline, “Reasonable bipartisan gun control is possible.”

It followed the Nov. 5 shooting in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that left 26 dead. Remember that one? After a while the mass shootings tend to run together. There are so many.

The editorial referenced what Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., called at the time a rare “bright spot” in the darkness of the highly partisan politics that have come to define Washington in recent years and, in particular, the gun debate.

That bright spot involved legislation, jointly sponsored by Democrats and Republicans, that would stiffen rules to keep guns out of the hands of certifiably dangerous people, a topic we focused on in our Tuesday editorial as we continue to explore an issue once again thrust into the public eye.

Along with Murphy, the other lead senator on the bill was Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who was reacting to circumstances surrounding the shooting in Sutherland Springs.

The intent of the bill was better enforcement of existing rules intended to keep guns out of the wrong hands. It was so modest in scope and so fundamentally reasonable, even the National Rifle Association backed it.

Proposed were penalties and incentives to enforce the requirement that federal agencies report all qualifying infractions to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Listing on the NICS blocks an individual from purchasing a gun. The bill also called for better monitoring of potential gun buyers with domestic abuse records.

The problems with the NICS were revealed after the shooting in Sutherland Springs. The shooter, who killed himself, should have been in the system and blocked from buying the weapon he used. He had a 2014 domestic violence conviction. The Air Force, in which the killer served and which prosecuted the case, never reported the conviction to the NICS.

The murderer who walked into a black church in Charleston, S.C., in June 2015 and killed nine congregants had a narcotics arrest that should have blocked his gun purchase as well, but that information also fell through the cracks in the reporting system.

Outrageously, the bill went nowhere, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., either considering it too unimportant to take up the Senate’s time or too politically problematic because it involved guns.

Now it may be revived.

The White House announced Monday that President Trump is interested in moving the Cornyn-Murphy bill forward.

“While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system,” said Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

The president’s interest in the legislation appeared sparked by the recent mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people — students and educators — were murdered. Yet the proposed legislation would apparently not have prevented the 19-year-old who has confessed to the killings from purchasing the weapon he used.

The legislation does not go nearly far enough, as Murphy has acknowledged. It leaves in place massive loopholes. It doesn’t even raise the issue of prohibiting the sale of some guns because of their capabilities to conduct mass shootings.

After hearing of Trump’s support for the FixNICS Act, Murphy tweeted that it “is another sign the politics of gun violence are shifting rapidly,” then added, “no one should pretend this bill alone is an adequate response to this epidemic.”

As the editorial noted in November, though the legislation would be a relatively small step, at least it would be a step in the right direction.

Yet it’s hard to be optimistic that Trump and the Republican leadership will follow through. Recall that in the wake of the shooting that killed 58 Las Vegas concert goers in October, bipartisan support was noted for a ban on the sale of bump stocks, which allow a semiautomatic weapon to function much like an illegal automatic rifle. The Las Vegas mass murderer used one.

No such bill has emerged. (Though on Tuesday Trump instructed his attorney general to propose regulations banning the devices.)

So we repeat: Congress should approve a bump-stock ban and the Murphy-Cornyn legislation. That’s not nearly enough, but it is something.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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