WASHINGTON – House Speaker Paul Ryan offered condolences for the victims and families of yesterday’s Parkland school shooting, in which 17 people were killed and at least 14 injured, during a Thursday press conference at the Capitol.
“Our first thoughts are with the families of those who were lost,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “We know at least five people right now are fighting for their lives, and we need to pray for each one of those people.”
Under questioning by reporters, Ryan said Congress will look into potential gaps in gun legislation related to preventing people with mental health issues from obtaining guns. However, he dismissed Democratic calls for tougher gun control legislation.
“This is one of those moments where we need to step back and count our blessings,” Ryan said. “We need to think less about taking sides and fighting each other politically and just pull together.”
During a press conference directly before Ryan’s, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called for creation of a special congressional committee on gun violence as well as enacting expanded background check legislation and allowing the federal Center on Disease Control to study gun violence.
Pelosi called for Congress “to be bold” in combatting gun violence.
“It’s an assault on our whole country, and they are paying the price for our inaction,” Pelosi said. “Whose political survival is more important than that? Nobody’s.”
In the latest in a series of mass killings at schools, a lone gunman – 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz – entered the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., yesterday and killed 17 students and faculty. At least fourteen others were injured. Cruz legally purchased the AR-15 used in the attack and was a member of a Florida white nationalist militia, the Associated Press reported Thursday morning.
He has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and is being held without bond.
When asked about Pelosi’s remarks, Ryan, R-Wis., was noncommittal. However, he did say Congress has already made progress on improving the background check system,citing the “Fix NICS” bill which passed the House in 2017 in the wake of the Sutherland Springs church shooting.
That bill would penalize government agencies that fail to notify the National Instant Criminal Background Check System of individuals who pose a threat and shouldn’t be allowed to purchase guns. The Senate has yet to act on the House-passed bill.
“There was a man who had been convicted in the Air Force of domestic violence,” Ryan said. “He wasn’t supposed to get a gun. Yet, the Air Force didn’t give the records to the instant check system, and he got a gun. That’s one of the reasons we passed legislation plugging that loophole.”
In a Thursday address, President Donald Trump took a similar position, promising to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health” and announcing his plans to visit Parkland and meet with families and local officials. Trump did not mention gun control. His remarks follow an early morning tweet in which the president called Cruz “mentally disturbed.”
So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2018
The president first offered condolences on Twitter Wednesday, saying “No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.” However, the president’s remarks were met with backlash and calls for gun control, including from a survivor of the shooting.
“I don’t want your condolences you [expletive deleted],” Sarah, a 16-year-old student at the high school, said in a tweet that has since been deleted. “my friends and teachers were shot. Multiple of my fellow classmates are dead. Do something instead of sending prayers. Prayers won’t fix this. But Gun control will prevent it from happening again.”
In a later tweet, Sarah apologized for her language “but not for my anger.”
About my tweet directed to president trump, I apologize for the profanity and harsh comment I made. I hope you know I’m a grieving 16 year old girl who lost friends, teachers, and peers yesterday. I was and am still angry. I am apologizing for my comment but not for my anger.
— sarah (@sarahmara16) February 15, 2018
Gun control advocates have also criticized Republican responses to the shooting. John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said more gun control legislation is needed.
“Thoughts and prayers alone are not enough,” Feinblatt said in a written statement. “We need to honor the victims of the Parkland mass shooting with action. Sadly, we have a president and Congress that are doing everything in their power to weaken gun laws, not strengthen them.”