Roberts, Jenkins predict congressional action on guns in wake of mass shooting at Florida high school
Topeka ? U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas and 2nd District Rep. Lynn Jenkins, both Republicans, said Thursday that they expect Congress to take up some kind of gun control legislation, possibly within the next week.
The renewed push for gun control has gained momentum in the wake of a mass shooting at a Florida high school Feb. 14 that left 17 students and staff dead and 14 more people injured.
“I think this is one of those things where we have endured so much, and then this one was so obvious that it could have been prevented that there’s a feeling in Congress, look, let’s get this done,” Roberts told reporters during a stop in Topeka.
“I think there’s going to be a vigorous debate when we get back next week over how we move forward,” Jenkins said. “This is becoming all too common. I think our constituents are demanding some kind of solution.”
Roberts and Jenkins were both in Topeka to tour the new DaVita Wanamaker Dialysis Center, a facility that provides outpatient dialysis treatment for people with kidney failure. Both helped push through recent legislation that helps speed up the process of inspecting new facilities so they can be certified to bill Medicare.
Their visit came just a little more than a week after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
The accused gunman in that massacre, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, reportedly used an AR-15 assault-style rifle with large-capacity magazines, all items he was able to buy legally under Florida law.
“If people want that, then they’re going to have to be older, obviously,” Roberts said of that type of gun. “They’re going to have to have training, if that’s the case. Hunters don’t use that. Or, if they do, they shouldn’t.”
Roberts also said he supports a ban on so-called “bump stocks” that enable a semi-automatic rifle like the AR-15 to operate like a fully automatic weapon.
That type of device was used in another mass shooting Oct. 1 in Las Vegas that left 58 people dead and hundreds injured.
Jenkins, however, was less specific about the types of gun control measures she would support.
“I’m sure there are,” she said. “We’re in the process of kind of going through a list and touching base with our constituents, the people I work for, to see what they support. Kansas is big on the Second Amendment, but yet I think there’s not a Kansan that’s not sympathetic to the crisis we keep seeing occur almost every month.”
For the past several years, Congress has been reluctant to take up any kind of gun control measure, due largely to heavy lobbying from the National Rifle Association. But Roberts said he thinks that will change in light of the Florida shooting.
“I think the NRA is going to be a little flexible on this. I really do,” he said. “I think it would be in their best interest.”
The issue of gun violence in schools also arose in the Kansas Legislature Thursday, where Republican leaders in the Kansas House called off debate on a bill that would have authorized public schools to provide firearm safety education programs.
More specifically, it would have directed the Kansas State Board of Education to establish curriculum guidelines based on programs currently offered by the National Rifle Association and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, said the decision to pull the bill off the debate calendar was not related to emotions surrounding the recent Florida massacre.
“There are more comprehensive discussions going on about how to keep our kids safe,” he said in an interview. “We want it to be part of a bigger solution. Obviously we’re supportive of training for our kids and (having) them more comfortable around guns, or to know what to do when they find one. We’re going to be looking at a larger, more comprehensive look at how we keep our kids safe.”
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, however, said in a separate interview that the timing of the discussion made some House members uncomfortable.
“I think it showed a lack of understanding of the volatility of this issue,” he said. “The world changed last week, and I think the NRA is much slower to catch up with the rest of the world.”
Because that bill originated from the Federal and State Affairs Committee, it is exempt from Thursday’s “turnaround” deadline for most bills to pass out of their chambers of origin. That committee can introduce new bills at any time during the session, and those bills can be debated and voted on by the House at any time.
Ryckman said the gun safety education bill will return in another form later in the session.