Governors to Washington: Stop dithering on guns

 In Politics

Governors are tired of waiting on Washington for action on gun policy.

State leaders from both parties implored federal lawmakers this weekend to listen to their states’ examples for responsible firearm legislation after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., increasingly exasperated with the slow pace of debate and halting progress in the nation’s capital.

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Democrats and Republicans alike said they planned to force their way in front of both administration officials and legislators as they gather at the National Governors Association meeting in downtown Washington Saturday and Sunday.

Even as the predictable party-line divides over the sensitive issues remained on display, the state executives were unanimous in their boiling frustration that they hadn’t been consulted more on questions of arming teachers, how to handle expanding background checks or imposing age limits on assault weapons.

“Congress needs to act,” said Democratic Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo. “But we’re not going to sit around and wait for them to act. We’re taking action on our own to keep people safe.”

As has quickly become tradition, Republicans in attendance were careful not to swerve too far into President Donald Trump’s lane: few outwardly expressed frustration with the president personally, instead opting to praise him and focus their ire on nameless others in the administration or on Congress as a whole.

Even John Kasich, the Ohio Republican who is mulling a primary challenge to Trump in 2020, said the president “deserves some credit, in that he’s talking about bump stocks, he’s talked about the business of checks — appropriate checks.”

Democrats were far less willing to grant Trump even an inch, already letting their concern over the White House’s guns posture spill over just minutes into Saturday morning’s NGA meeting.

“As everyone in the nation’s capital has found out, reaching common ground with someone who changes his mind like everybody else changes his socks — who tells you he’s going to do something on Monday and backtracks on Tuesday — it’s very difficult,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat who leads his party’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign efforts. “I sadly suspect it’s going to be the same thing here. We’ll hear some language out of the White House that does not actually transmit to action.”

Still, leaders from both sides urged immediate consideration of strengthening background checks for firearm purchasers.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, called recent mass shootings “a form of terrorism that’s been used against us” in an interview at POLITICO’s State Solutions conference. The governor said Saturday he was concerned, after meeting with Mike Pence on Friday, that the vice president’s insistence that Trump would aim to improve existing background check systems implied the administration wouldn’t support universal background checks.

Utah’s Gary Herbert, a third-term Republican from a deeply conservative state, said the conversation must move in that direction.

“I certainly support better background checks: complete, comprehensive background checks to make sure that people don’t have access to guns if you’re a convicted felon, have bad behavior, or have mental problems.”

“It’s time for people on both sides of the aisle to sit down at the table, and let’s find something we can agree on, and perhaps that should be that we all agree we should be for responsible gun ownership,” added Ralph Northam, Virginia’s new Democratic governor who campaigned in 2017 on a platform that included gun control — and much of whose gun agenda was defeated by local Republicans in his first days in office in Richmond this year. He pointed to the broad popularity of background check measures.

“If we can agree on that, then let’s move forward and talk about things like bump stocks. Let’s talk about universal background checks — which over 90 percent of Virginians encourage.”

Still, Trump’s proposal to train and arm teachers — or reward educators who opted in to such a program — was met with far more skepticism, even from pro-gun Republicans.

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