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Gun legislation is unlikely to change on a federal level. Action will be up to states

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

It's happened again. The mass shooting at a Nashville school on Monday is the latest in 130 mass shooting incidents so far this year. That's according to data from the National Gun Violence Archive. And in the wake of that shooting that left three children, three adults, plus the shooter dead, members of Congress are repeating sentiments we've heard again and again.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

ANDY OGLES: We are sending our deepest and most sincere condolences.

LUCY MCBATH: Right now, there are parents out there scared to death of sending their children to school.

DICK DURBIN: One out of four - virtually, one out of four of all guns manufactured in this country today are AR-15 weapons. Are we out of our minds?

FLORIDO: But any action by Congress faces an uphill battle. Joining us now is NPR's Martin Kaste and also NPR's Barbara Sprunt. Hi, you two.

BARBARA SPRUNT, BYLINE: Hi.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Hello, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Barbara, you were on the Hill this week, and we heard a little bit of the reaction from members of Congress in the introduction to this conversation. What else are lawmakers saying in the aftermath of this shooting?

SPRUNT: Well, what we're hearing is a very familiar reaction along partisan lines, as you might expect. House Democrats held a press conference on the front steps of the Capitol this morning. They called on Republican leadership to bring the assault weapons ban to the House floor. This is something President Biden has repeatedly called for. He renewed that call earlier this week as well. House Democrats did pass such a ban last year, but there wasn't sufficient support for it to be taken up in the Senate.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, Speaker Kevin McCarthy has ignored questions today on what, if anything, Congress should do going forward on this issue. Other Republican lawmakers have reiterated their opposition to any actions that would restrict access to the right to bear arms, which is a major flank of the party, something that many in their base care deeply about. And they have said that the investigation into the shooting should play out before people make statements about any policy response.

FLORIDO: Martin, you cover law enforcement around the country. One thing the Biden administration is doing is encouraging states to pass red flag laws. Are they doing that?

KASTE: Yeah. Arguably, that's the kind of law that might have prevented the Nashville shooting. The shooter is reported to have been emotionally disturbed. The parents were concerned. And if the state had had a red flag law, they might have been able to petition a court to have guns taken away, perhaps even with police help. But the Tennessee legislature, which is overwhelmingly Republican, has so far refused to pass a red flag law. Gun-rights groups tend to be skeptical of red flag laws because they worry that they might be abused in personal disputes or set a precedent for broader gun confiscation.

So if you look at the list of the 19 states that have red flag laws right now, most of them are Democratic majority. One big exception, though, is Florida. It passed a red flag law after the Parkland school shooting in 2018. And that's the state where the red flag laws are actually being used the most.

FLORIDO: Aside from red flag laws, Barbara, is there any other legislative action possible?

SPRUNT: You know, the political reality right now is that there's little support to address gun violence through major legislation. And the prospects with a Republican-controlled House and just a very narrow Democratic majority in the Senate, it makes any, even a targeted bill, hard to advance. Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who was the lead negotiator in that bipartisan deal that Biden signed into law last year, he says the focus in the Senate has been on areas where there is bipartisan support, like background checks. There is not broad bipartisan support on an assault weapons ban. And that is just the political reality. That is what is this Congress.

FLORIDO: OK. So federal action seems unlikely. But what about in the states, Martin?

KASTE: The states are responding to these tragedies with two very different philosophies. In the red states, what you hear about is the right to carry, the fact that this means that people need even more to be armed to protect themselves and that there should be fewer impediments to having a gun on you. Tennessee is a good example of this. In 2021, they dropped permit and training requirements for carrying a gun. North Carolina also just eliminated it's gun permitting system. There, the Republican-controlled Senate just voted along party lines to override a veto by the Democratic governor, showing just how partisan this has become.

In the blue states, on the other hand, they're trying to find new ways to restrict guns, despite the pressure from the U.S. Supreme Court. They're especially focused on the semi-automatic rifles or assault-style weapons. These weapons actually account for only a small percentage of the total gun deaths in this country, but they're often used in these high-profile tragedies. So nine mostly Democratic-run states have banned the sale of assault weapons. And Washington state is coming close to becoming the 10th. So really see the states moving in opposite directions.

FLORIDO: I've been speaking with NPR's Martin Kaste, who covers law enforcement, and NPR's Barbara Sprunt, who covers Congress. Thanks to you both.

SPRUNT: Thank you.

KASTE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.
Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.
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