March 22, 2018 / 6:50 PM / a month ago

U.S. Congress poised to pass modest gun control measures in spending bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With large protests for stricter gun laws planned nationwide on Saturday, the U.S. Congress is expected to approve a massive spending bill this week with grants to help schools prevent gun violence, improvements to background checks and an assurance that a key government agency can conduct related research.

Students from Washington, DC-area schools protest for stricter gun control during a walkout by students at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

The provisions are Congress’ response to intensified public anger and frustration over mass shootings and follow the Feb. 14 massacre at a Florida high school in which 17 people died.

But the narrowly tailored action falls short of the type of comprehensive legislation gun control advocates and many Democrats say is needed to stop the shooting deaths of school children, concert-goers, church worshippers and others.

“We made incremental but important progress on the issue of gun violence, a debate that this Congress must soon continue,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters, saying “America has changed on guns.”

Many Democrats support closing a loophole that allows individuals to skirt government background checks by purchasing weapons at gun shows or over the internet, raising the minimum age to buy a weapon and banning assault-style rifles.

Congress is expected to approve the $1.3 trillion package this week and send it to President Donald Trump to be signed into law before a Friday deadline to fund the government.

The deal contains a bipartisan measure to give states additional funds to comply with the National Instant Criminal Background Check system, an FBI database that screens potential gun buyers.

It also includes $50 million annually in grant money for states to help schools better identify and respond to gun violence.

“The calls from the American people to address gun violence in our schools and communities have been deafening,” No. 2 Senate Republican John Cornyn said in a statement. “Fixing the background check system will help save lives.”

There is also language clarifying that a 1996 amendment passed by Congress, after lobbying by the National Rifle Association, prohibiting the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) from using appropriated funds to “advocate or promote gun control” does not bar the agency from studying the causes of gun violence.

The 1996 amendment has had a chilling effect on CDC research. Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Congress last month he believed the CDC still had the authority to research gun violence.

“Just over a month after 17 innocent people were killed ... the American people have been screaming from the rooftops for real, bold change to fight against such tragedies. And this is just not enough,” Kris Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement on the spending bill.

Reporting by Amanda Becker; Editing by James Dalgleish

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