The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The public has spoken on gun control. Don’t wait for the White House.

Students at the entrance to the office of Florida Gov. Rick Scott with boxes of petitions for gun control reform.
Students at the entrance to the office of Florida Gov. Rick Scott with boxes of petitions for gun control reform. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

ACTION ON gun-control legislation has stalled in Congress as Republican leaders try to get some sense of what President Trump might support. We have a better idea. Rather than trying to decipher signals from a president who changes his mind by the hour, lawmakers should listen to the public they are elected to represent. Its message in the aftermath of last month’s fatal shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has been clear: It’s time to end the decades-long stalemate on gun control and enact laws to keep guns from falling into the wrong hands.

A number of bipartisan bills have been introduced, including to bolster the national system of background checks, but debate was slowed after Mr. Trump’s shifting stances last week created confusion. At various points, Mr. Trump embraced arming teachers, strengthening background checks, raising the minimum age for gun purchases and forgoing due process to seize weapons from mentally disturbed people. After Mr. Trump met privately with the National Rifle Association — and tweeted how “Good (Great)” it went — the White House hedged support on universal background checks and the minimum age. “I think the president is trying to have it both ways,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” about Mr. Trump trying to appeal to public sentiment while still appeasing the NRA, which helped underwrite his presidential campaign.

Mr. Murphy is among the co-sponsors, along with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), of a bill that would bring improvements to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The bill, which also enjoys bipartisan support in the House, was introduced after last year’s mass shooting in a rural Texas church showed breakdowns in information being fed to the system. The bill essentially strengthens existing law, and passage should be a no-brainer. The same can be said about legislation banning bump stocks — devices made notorious by the Las Vegas gunman who used them to kill 58 people in the country’s deadliest mass shooting in the modern era.

It is time for Congress to act on these most modest of reforms — and to tackle more ambitious and needed changes. A recent Politico-Morning Consult poll showed that 88 percent of Americans now support universal background checks, 81 percent think a person should be at least 21 to buy a gun, 70 percent favor a ban on high-capacity magazines and 68 percent think assault-style weapons should be banned. If Congress continues to ignore the public’s clamor for reasonable gun-control legislation, voters should use the upcoming midterm elections to reiterate the message.

Read more on this topic:

Eugene Robinson: Trump and the GOP won’t act on gun control. So let’s kick them out.

The Post’s View: Are you serious about gun control, Mr. Trump? Prove it.

Dana Milbank: Why won’t pro-lifers act against our deadly gun culture?

Ronald A. Klain: Democrats shouldn’t let 1994 guide them on guns

Leah Libresco: I used to think gun control was the answer. My research told me otherwise.