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School shooting survivor tells House panel: 'Our voices must be heard'

By
Bryan Wood and Cameron Peters, Medill News Service
Aalayah Eastmond, 17, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who survived the mass shooting there last year, testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on gun control Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
Aalayah Eastmond, 17, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who survived the mass shooting there last year, testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on gun control Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Almost a year after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday called for universal background checks on gun sales and raising the minimum age to purchase an assault rifle.

The House has not tackled gun control since 2011, when Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., proposed legislation banning guns near lawmakers after Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot in the head. The bill didn't make it out of the House, which was then controlled by Republicans.

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High school shooting survivors, including Aalayah Eastmond, now a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, traveled to Capitol Hill to demand stricter gun laws and a ban of assault rifles.

In emotional testimony before the committee, Aalayah, 17, described hiding under the body of a slain classmate last Valentine's Day and said she and her peers have been "scarred emotionally for the rest of our lives" by gun violence.

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On Feb. 14, 2018, a former student stormed into the school and killed a total of 17 students and staff.

"Our stories and voices must be heard on the most important issue facing our generation," Aalayah said. "We are the generation that will end gun violence."

Neither of the proposed House bills would ban assault weapons as Aalayah advocates. The Background Checks Act of 2019 would broaden background checks for all gun sales and most gun transfers. Federally licensed gun sellers will be required to run background checks on gun purchasers, but private sellers won't be required to do so.

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The bipartisan-backed Raise the Age Act, introduced by Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., would increase the minimum age to purchase an assault weapon from 18 to 21.

"We do not need another moment of silence. We don't need more thoughts and prayers. We need a moment of action," said Rep. Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "Today's hearing is the first step toward that goal."

During a legislative meeting on guns and school safety in 2017, President Donald Trump spoke in favor of measures like the Raise the Age Act, sparking immediate pushback from the National Rifle Association.

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"People aren't bringing it up because they're afraid to bring it up. You can't buy a handgun at 18, 19 or 20. You have to wait until you're 21," Trump said at the time.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated in the past that the legislation will not find Republican support in the Senate and told a Bloomberg reporter in November that any moderate restrictions are "highly unlikely to pass."

However, the bill's path forward in the House is clear -- it has a bipartisan majority of co-sponsors. Freshman Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., who lost her son to gun violence in 2012, emphasized its importance.

"The pain of losing a child to gun violence never ends," McBath said. "Our community and our nation cannot wait any longer for common-sense gun safety solutions."

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