PORTLAND, Maine — A gun safety bill supported by Maine’s Republican senator is now progressing in both houses of Congress.
Sen. Susan Collins says she’s on board with Senate legislation that would require the feds to inform states within 24 hours when a person prohibited from buying guns fails the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. A bipartisan group of senators introduced the bill last week.
Similar legislation has been referred to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.
Collins says Maine is one of 37 states where state law enforcement isn’t alerted when a prohibited person attempts to buy a gun. She says the NICS Denial Notification Act will help stop “dangerous people from obtaining guns illegally” while also protecting gun rights of people who play by the rules.
Meanwhile on Saturday, the Trump administration said it has taken the first step in the regulatory process to ban bump stocks, likely setting the stage for long legal battles with gun manufacturers while the trigger devices remain on the market.
The move was expected after President Donald Trump ordered the Justice Department to work toward a ban following the shooting deaths of 17 people at a Florida high school in February. Bump stocks, which enable guns to fire like automatic weapons, were not used in that attack — they were used in last year’s Las Vegas massacre — but have since become a focal point in the gun control debate.
The Justice Department’s regulation would classify the hardware as a machine gun banned under federal law. That would reverse a 2010 decision by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that found bump stocks did not amount to machine guns and could not be regulated unless Congress amended existing firearms law or passed a new one.
A reversal of the department’s earlier evaluation could be seen as an admission that it was legally flawed, which manufacturers could seize on in court. Even as the Trump administration moves toward banning the devices, some ATF officials believe it lacks the authority to do so.
But any congressional effort to create new gun control laws would need support from the pro-gun Republican majority. A bid to ban the accessory fizzled last year, even as lawmakers expressed openness to the idea after nearly 60 people were gunned down in Las Vegas.
Some states have sought their own restrictions in light of the inaction. A ban on bump stocks was part of a far-reaching school safety bill signed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, on Friday that was immediately met with a lawsuit by the National Rifle Association. The powerful group has said it supports ATF regulations on the accessory but opposes any legislation that would do that same. The NRA did not immediately return calls for comment Saturday.
Calls mounted for a bump stock ban after the Las Vegas shooting, and the Justice Department said in December it would again review whether they can be prohibited under federal law. Trump told officials to expedite the review, which yielded more than 100,000 comments from the public and the firearms industry. Many of the comments came from gun owners angry over any attempt to regulate the accessory, a move they view as a slippery slope toward outlawing guns altogether.
The proposal still needs the approval of the Office of Management and Budget.
On Sunday, a White House aide said that Trump’s plan to combat school shootings will include a call on states to increase the minimum age for purchasing assault weapons and an effort to “harden” schools so they’re less vulnerable to attacks.
White House spokesman Raj Shah said the president will not advocate “universal” background checks, but will reiterate his support for a bill that would promote better information-sharing. The president will also be convening a task force to further study the issue.
“There’s going to be a series of proposals,” Shah said on ABC’s “This Week” in an interview Sunday. “Some will be legislative, some will be administrative and some will be recommendations for states as well as a task force to study this issue in more depth and make more additional policy recommendations. So it’s going to be consistent with what the president has talked about.”
The long-awaited recommendations are expected to be laid out in more detail by the White House on Sunday evening.
Trump also seemed to voice support for “universal” background checks, which would apply to private gun sales and those at gun shows, instead of just from licensed dealers. He also raised eyebrows by suggesting that law enforcement officials should be able to confiscate guns from those they deem a safety risk even before a court has weighed in.
“Take the guns first, go through due process second,” Trump said.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, later walked back both suggestions, saying “Universal means something different to a lot of people.” She said the president wanted to expedite the court process, not circumvent it.
Shah said Trump would be reiterating his call for improvements to the National Instant Criminal Background Check through the “Fix NICS” bill, which would penalize federal agencies that don’t properly report required records and reward states that comply by providing them with federal grant preferences.
The bill was written in response to a shooting last November by a gunman whose domestic violence conviction the Air Force failed to report to the National Criminal Information Center database. It has already passed the House.
The White House also supports a second bill that would create a federal grant program to train students, teachers and school officials how to identify signs of potential violence and intervene early. The Republican-controlled House is expected to vote on the STOP School Violence Act next week.
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