Back at work, U.S. lawmakers face growing calls for gun control

Congress returns to work Monday after a weeklong recess for both houses. Legislators will face the rising debate over gun violence in the United States and other significant issues this week. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

By Ed AdamczykUPI

Members of Congress return to work Monday after a weeklong recess to again face debate over U.S. gun violence amid calls for greater gun control measures.

The House and Senate took their scheduled recesses before survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at a South Florida high school began publicizing demands for action. Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School took protests to their state capital in Tallahassee, Fla., last week in a well-publicized plea for state and federal legislators to get a handle on gun violence.

Since the shooting attack, President Donald Trump has endorsed tougher, comprehensive background checks of gun purchasers, raising the legal age of gun purchase from 18 to 21 and banning modifications to assault rifles.

A prior attempt to ban bump stocks, which are modification devices that accelerate the firing capabilities of semi-automatic rifles, failed in Congress after the Oct. 31, 2017, mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 people. In 2010 and again in 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives determined that it lacked the power to regulate alterations, requiring Congress to change pertinent laws.

Trump’s support for a ban is a change in policy, as he’s ordered the Justice Department to propose changes in regulations.

In a Republican-led Congress, though, any limitation of gun rights could be difficult. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said a Senate floor vote on the Fix NICS Act, which would affect the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, could occur by Monday. Some Republican senators, though, have already voiced objection to the bill in its current form.

In addition to gun violence, Congress will also debate other significant matters this week.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell will testify before Congressional committees on Tuesday and Thursday for the first time since he took over for Janet Yellen as chairman this month. What he tells Congress about inflation and the possibility of new interest rate hikes could affect markets Monday.

Also beginning Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will testify before House and Senate budget oversight committees to discuss deep cuts to the State Department proposed by the Trump administration — 26 percent for fiscal year 2019, compared to the 30 percent cut requested for fiscal 2018.

Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on fighting opioid abuse — at a time when there are eight related bills under discussion on Capitol Hill. The bills address scheduling guidelines for synthetic opioids, the disposal of medications for patients under hospice care, updates to patient care laws and guidelines, medical education for providers, help for pharmacists in detecting fraudulent prescriptions, and expanding access to care to underserved communities.

Trump has declared opioid abuse as a national health emergency.