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Speaker Paul Ryan says GOP will look at "system failures," not gun control, in wake of Florida shooting

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 2/27/2018 Deirdre Shesgreen
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Video by CBS News

WASHINGTON — Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday that House Republicans would focus on law enforcement failures, not tighter gun control, in the wake of the latest mass shooting, which left 17 children and educators dead at a Florida school on Feb. 14. 

"There was a colossal breakdown in the system," Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters at a news conference on Tuesday. Ryan cited inaction by a deputy stationed outside the school and tips called in to federal and local law enforcement officials about the alleged shooter, Nikolas Cruz, which raised concerns that the 19-year-old was planning such a rampage. 

Ryan's remarks came as students who survived the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., met with lawmakers across the Capitol — including an emotional session with House Democrats who support stricter gun control.

“There’s no daylight between the Parkland students and really the overwhelming majority of the Democratic caucus," Joe Crowley, D-N.Y. and chairman of the Democratic caucus, told reporters after the students spoke to the conference. "It was inspiring to have them here today ... We took energy from each other I think that was important.”

Ryan's spokeswoman, AshLee Strong, did not respond to an email asking if the speaker was also meeting with the students.  

"We’re going to be looking at the system failures that occurred here," Ryan said at the GOP news conference Tuesday. "All of us have been deeply troubled by this ... This a time for asking tough questions." 

Paul Ryan wearing a suit and tie: House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., speaks to the media during a news conference, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. © Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., speaks to the media during a news conference, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Ryan dismissed calls from Democrats and some survivors of the Florida school shooting for stronger gun laws, including a ban on assault rifles and legislation to close loopholes in the background check system.   

"We shouldn’t be banning guns for law-abiding citizens," the GOP leader said. "We should be focusing on making sure that citizens who should not get guns in the first place don’t get those guns." 

Ryan and other Republicans touted a House-passed bill that would create incentives for states and federal agencies to upload more data to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, NICS. The bill, called “Fix NICS,” has bipartisan support and came as a response to the mass shooting at a Texas church in November.

In that instance, the gunman's violent history would have precluded him from buying a gun, but authorities failed to report it to the federal background check system.

The House passed its version of Fix NICS in December, but GOP leaders combined that measure with a controversial bill to expand the right to carry concealed weapons, the top legislative priority of the National Rifle Association. Democrats say the concealed-carry measure is a non-starter.

In the Senate, Texas Republican John Cornyn, an author of both measures, is pushing for a vote on a stand-alone NICS bill.

“Let's do what we can immediately to pass Fix NICS and build from there,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor Tuesday. 

But advocates said the NICS bill is not enough to fix the background check system, let alone curb gun violence.

“Just imagine you’re trying to climb over a 100 foot wall. Fix NICS is putting a step stool right in front of it," said Mark Kelly, the husband of ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot at a 2011 constituent meeting in Arizona. 

"It’s certainly better than doing nothing. It’s not fixing our background check system,"  said Kelly, now a gun-control advocate. 

Kelly and others have been pushing for Congress to close a loophole that allows some buyers to evade background checks if they purchase firearms from private sellers. 

Ryan on Tuesday declined to answer questions about whether he could support such legislation. And he refused to say if he would delink the NICS bill from the concealed-carry measure if it became clear that's all the Senate would accept.  

"We’re waiting to see what the Senate can do," Ryan said. "We’ll discuss and cross that bridge when we get to it."

Asked about President Trump's call to arm teachers, Ryan said he supported that idea but not at the federal level. 

"As a parent myself and as a citizen, I think it’s a good idea," Ryan said. "But as Speaker of the House, I think we need to respect federalism and respect local jurisdictions." 

Other Republicans dismissed Trump's call to raise the legal age for purchasing semi-automatic guns, from 18 to 21.

“I don’t see raising the age on guns being something that will find support on Capitol Hill," said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the hardline House Freedom Caucus.

Meadows said Congress may take some action on background checks, "but other than that, I think it’s really too early to tell the scope of the legislative efforts.”

 Read more: 

Calls for action in wake of Florida school shooting, but prospects in Congress uncertain

After Florida school shooting, the best thing from gun debate might be more science

Jeff Flake: 'A kid too young buy a handgun should be too young to buy an #AR15'

Contributing: USA TODAY Reporters Nicole Gaudiano and Eliza Collins

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