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Las Vegas Shooting Not Expected To Change Partisan Debate On Gun Control

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

House Republicans have held off voting this week on a bill that would make it easier to buy a silencer. That measure is one of several attempts this year by the Republican-controlled Congress to ease restrictions on guns. Democrats are frustrated that yet another horrific mass shooting will likely not result in stricter gun laws or at least constructive dialogue. NPR's Scott Detrow has more from Capitol Hill.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: When reporters tried to ask Arizona Senator Jeff Flake about gun control today, he walked quickly - very quickly - to the nearest elevator.

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JEFF FLAKE: I'm sure we'll be talking about that a lot.

DETROW: Flake was on a Virginia baseball field in June when a shooter opened fire on a team of Republicans and nearly killed House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. But Flake didn't want to talk about gun control today, and neither did many other Republicans. The party has long resisted any form of gun control. Many members argue that restricting weapons wouldn't cut down on violence or crime since people inclined to break the law would do so to get the weapon they want. House Speaker Paul Ryan says the focus should instead be on mental health.

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PAUL RYAN: One of the things we've learned from these shootings is that often underneath this is a diagnosis of mental illness.

DETROW: But as soon as Ryan said that this morning, he came under pressure. That's because one of the early bills Congress sent to President Trump this year was a measure blocking an Obama-era rule that was aimed at preventing people who had been adjudicated mentally ill from buying guns.

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RYAN: Yeah, there were people who were - whose rights were being infringed. And that wasn't just - it was - it's a little more complicated than you're describing.

DETROW: Ryan was also quizzed about a measure that had been anticipated to come up for a House vote this week. It would make it easier to purchase silencers, among other things.

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RYAN: That bill's not scheduled now. I don't know when it's going to be scheduled. Right now we're focused on passing our budget. By the way, we're bringing our budget up this week. I don't know if you knew that.

DETROW: It's the flip side for many Democrats today. They want to talk about gun control. On the Senate floor, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pointed out that silencer bill had been scheduled for a hearing in June, but the hearing was delayed after the congressional baseball shooting.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: When two mass shootings force you to delay a bill that would make those mass shootings harder to detect and stop, maybe it's a sign you ought to let go of the bill once and for all.

DETROW: Democrats think the public is on their side. Many regularly point to polls showing roughly 9 in 10 Americans back stronger background checks for gun purchases. On the broader question of expanding or loosening gun regulations it's much more of a 50-50 split, but in most polls the majority is usually on the side of passing more restrictions. With that in mind, Schumer also singled out another bill sponsored by many Republicans allowing concealed carry permits in one state to be recognized in others. He sketched out some graphic hypotheticals.

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SCHUMER: Can you imagine if that law passed? This horrible, horrible man could concealed carry under the laws of Nevada and come to Times Square in New York City or Disneyland in Florida and just shoot away.

DETROW: The last serious push to change gun laws came in 2013 in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that left 20 children dead. President Obama made gun control a top priority in the first year of his second term. In the Senate, Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Pat Toomey teamed up to push expanding federal background checks to gun shows and Internet sales, among other changes, with broad public support. It got a majority of votes in the Senate, but not the 60 it needed to clear a filibuster.

The Sandy Hook shooting didn't change the gridlock of the gun control debate. Neither have other mass shootings since then. And in the immediate wake of the Las Vegas massacre, it looks like this mass shooting won't lead to any changes either. Scott Detrow, NPR News, the Capitol.

(SOUNDBITE OF QKJ'S "THE FUTURE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.