US Congress inches forward with gun violence measure

House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to fund violence prevention measures at the nation’s schools

TOPSHOT - Students participate in a rally with other students from DC, Maryland and Virginia in their Solidarity Walk-Out to urge Republican leaders in Congress "to allow votes on gun violence prevention legislation." on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 14, 2018.
Students across the US walked out of classes on March 14, in a nationwide call for action against gun violence following the shooting deaths last month at a Florida high school. The nationwide protest is being held one month to the day after Nikolas Cruz, a troubled 19-year-old former student at Stoneman Douglas, unleashed a hail of gunfire on his former classmates. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON

As thousands of students staged walkouts Wednesday to protest inaction on gun control, US lawmakers took their first significant step to address gun violence since 17 people were murdered at a Florida high school one month ago.

The US Congress has yet to tackle the more controversial aspects of gun control in the aftermath of the shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, namely the restriction of certain weapons, age limits for purchases, or the expansion of background checks.

But the House of Representatives did vote overwhelmingly Wednesday to fund violence prevention measures at the nation’s schools including boosting school security and creating anonymous reporting systems so students can report threats.

The STOP School Violence Act was introduced by Republican congressman John Rutherford, a former sheriff of Jacksonville, Florida, and co-sponsored by House Democrat Ted Deutch, who represents the district that includes Parkland.

It passed by 407 to 10. A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate.

The legislation, which provides $75 million annually, would fund development of “intervention teams” as well as training for school officials and students in preventing violence and for responding to mental health crises.

It would also fund physical improvements like more metal detectors and better locks.

“This is a common-sense approach to combatting senseless violence,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said after its passage.

House Democrat Jerrold Nadler supported the bill, but said it was “shameful” that Congress has so far failed to reduce the gun violence threat to children.

“This bill does not include any provisions to strengthen our gun laws or to help keep guns out of the hands of those who should not possess them,” he said.

A raft of other proposals are being considered in the House and Senate, including bills that expand background checks, allow for gun violence protection orders and increase punishments for people who attempt to purchase guns despite being banned from doing so.

President Donald Trump had signalled support for raising the federal minimum age from 18 to 21 for purchasing semi-automatic rifles, but he has been accused of backtracking under pressure from the powerful pro-gun lobby.