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WASHINGTON — Congress on Thursday began the familiar process of discussing the nation's gun laws with little likelihood of taking action following the 18th school shooting of the year.
Congressional reaction to the death of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday broke down along predictably partisan lines as Republicans urged caution against drawing abrupt conclusions and Democrats expressed outrage over a lack of legislative action as the number of mass shootings mount. And the prospects for any legislative action continue to remain dim in the GOP-controlled Congress.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Congress needs to “take a breath and collect the facts.”
“We don’t just knee-jerk before we even have all the facts and the data,” Ryan said on WIBC Radio of Indianapolis.
He ordered the flags at the Capitol to fly at half-staff
“My colleagues from Florida will carry home the prayers of the whole Senate — for victims and their families, for the community of Parkland, and for the first responders who bravely charge into harm’s way on behalf of others,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said as he opened the Senate floor Thursday morning.
The Senate held a moment of silence Thursday morning, but Democrats said that wasn't enough.
"We hope that we will have more than a moment of silence," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters. "Children are dying in our schools, in our communities, on our streets. All this Congress has to say is, 'Let’s have a moment of silence.'"
Former President Barack Obama, who said failing to secure tighter gun laws one of the biggest frustrations of his presidency, took the unusual step of weighing in on an ongoing political debate.
The House did not hold a moment of silence, despite Ryan telling reporters earlier in the day it would happen during a series of votes. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Cali., received applause from colleagues when he asked, "Can you tell us when the House may muster the courage to take up the issue of gun violence?"
"If you are not working today to try to fix this, to try to stop these shootings then you’re an accomplice," Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told reporters.
"We cannot tolerate a society and live in a country with any level of pride when our babies are being slaughtered," Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Cali., said.
Some members of the GOP, however, did express an openness to doing something focused the access those with mental health issues have to guns.
Sen. Marco Rubio, who represents the state where the most recent tragedy occurred, said that in the past he has "given the impression that doing nothing is doing what we should be." But he is is now open to supporting "anything that would work."
"It's a hard thing to confront, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try and do everything we can," Rubio said.
"We have not done a very good job of making sure that people that have mental reasons for not being able to handle a gun getting their name into the FBI files and we need to concentrate on that," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said.
Congress came close to taking up some gun legislation last fall after the mass shooting in Las Vegas left 50 people dead. Members from both parties expressed an openness to banning "bump stocks," the device the shooter used to turn his semi-automatic rifle into an automatic one. But that legislation remains stalled.
After a shooting at a Texas church last year where 26 people were killed, many of them children, the House passed narrow legislation to address loopholes in the gun database, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
It was fashioned after legislation introduced by Murphy, who represents Newtown — the site of the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012 that left 26 dead — and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. It would ensure that all background data would be uploaded to NICS.
But it was also paired with a loosening of gun restrictions that would allow people with permits to conceal-carry their weapons across state lines, even in states that don't allow concealed carry.
Ryan wouldn't commit Thursday to re-passing the background check bill without easing gun restrictions.
The background check bill remains stuck in the Senate.