WASHINGTON — Family members of one of the Parkland, Fla., mass shooting victims called on members of Congress Tuesday to pass school safety legislation, a day before students across the nation protest congressional inaction on gun violence.
"I didn’t get a chance that morning to say goodbye to my daughter, but I’m here today to make sure that I’m one of the last fathers that ever has to bury their daughter or son or loved one from a senseless act of violence in a school," said Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina Petty was among the 17 killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The House on Wednesday will take up a school safety bill as students from more than 2,800 schools stage National School Walkout events.
The bill would pay for threat assessments and training for students, teachers, school officials and law enforcement to detect early signs of violence. It would also fund “anonymous reporting systems,” such as phone apps, hotlines and websites, for threats of school violence.
"The worst kept secret in Parkland” was that the shooter in the Valentine's Day massacre was troubled, said Petty, who spoke at a news conference with several senators.
"The school officials knew, law enforcement knew," Petty said. "We need to identify these troubled youths early and we need to interdict before they turn violent."
A Senate version of the bill has bipartisan support, but it's unclear whether senators will get to it before their two-week recess, beginning March 26, as other measures consume Senate floor time.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. said on Tuesday he wants to pass significant school safety legislation and another measure to improve reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
“The best way to get that done is still under discussion but I’m anxious to pass both of them and pass both of them soon," McConnell said.
A co-sponsor of both bills, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the legislation must be part of a more comprehensive approach that includes an expansion of background checks, a ban on "assault weapons," and other gun-control measures.
"Otherwise they are simply fig leaves in justifying anemic inaction on the part of Congress," he said.
As deep divisions persist on gun-control legislation, lawmakers have focused on the less controversial school safety legislation, which has support from President Trump.
Trump is calling for firearms training for volunteer school staff, the creation of a school safety commission to examine ways to protect schools from gun violence, and passage of legislation to improve reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. He is also calling on states to pass risk protection orders allowing law enforcement to remove firearms from dangerous people. The administration will also audit the FBI tip line
But Trump has backed away from promoting gun-control measures he appeared to support during a Feb. 28 meeting with lawmakers, including an expansion of background checks or increasing the age for buying assault-style weapons, such as the AR-15 used in the Parkland shooting. The commission will study the age restrictions.
'We all know the game here'
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday said that the Senate is doing nothing to address gun violence because there is “too little courage in the White House” to take on the National Rifle Association.
“President Trump, You have no courage to buck the N.R.A.,” Schumer said in a Senate floor speech.
He said too many Republicans are like Trump, wanting to appear as though they are doing something for gun safety, but are only willing to support the “smallest policies that the N.R.A. gives a green light to."
“They say, 'Okay, let’s do these small things first, maybe we’ll do more later,'” Schumer said. “We all know the game here.”
The student walkouts, organized by the youth empowerment arm of the Women’s March, fall on the one-month anniversary of the Florida mass shooting.
Madison Thomas, 20, a Georgetown University student who is one of the organizers, said students expect more from Congress than additional security. They support a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, universal background checks and other gun-control measures.
“We want to make sure that we’re focusing on the issue of guns and gun reform,” she told USA TODAY on Monday.
Students from 28 schools or more plan to protest at both the White House and at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, she said.
Also on Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold an oversight hearing on the government’s response to the Florida shooting and legislative proposals to improve school safety. Witnesses will include members of various law enforcement agencies and others, according to the committee.
Leaders of the House judiciary and oversight committees say opportunities were missed after meeting last week with FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich on how the Bureau handled tips about the Parkland, Fla., shooter. The FBI acknowledged it failed to act on a tip about the shooter’s “desire to kill people...and the potential of him conducting a school shooting.”
Contributing: Deirdre Shesgreen.