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Washington (AFP) – The top Republican in the US House of Representatives backed away from toughening US gun laws on Tuesday despite the outcry over the Florida high school massacre that left 17 people dead.

House Speaker Paul Ryan blamed a broken system that allowed shooter Nikolas Cruz to take an AR-15 assault rifle into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, where he shot dead 14 students and three adults.

Ryan said “law-abiding” US citizens should have the right to own such weapons. 

Instead, the problem is with a system that allowed Cruz, who had known mental health problems, to legally obtain weapons.

“There was a colossal breakdown in the system locally,” Ryan told reporters.

“We shouldn’t be banning guns for law-abiding citizens. We should be focusing on making sure that citizens who should not get guns in the first place don’t get those guns.”

Ryan said he appreciated meeting with students from the high school to discuss what can be done to prevent future mass shootings.

But he avoided questions on whether new legislation would address the issue.

“Of course we want to listen to these kids. But we also want to make sure we protect people’s due process rights and legal constitutional rights.”

Steve Scalise, the number three house Republican nearly killed in a June 2017 shooting at a baseball game, called his meeting with the students Monday evening “very emotional.”

“Some of the things that they’ve been through are similar to some of the things that I’ve been through,” he told CBS.

But Scalise was cool on introducing more restrictions on gun ownership, saying only that there needed to be better enforcement of existing legislation. 

Asked about student demands for limits on ownership of AR-15s, he said: “That’s not one of the big discussions here. 

“You can talk about any one weapon and if you ban that weapon, does that mean that nothing else is going to happen?”

Ryan also backed away from President Donald Trump’s proposal to arm teachers in schools to prevent future attacks, saying it was an issue for local governments to consider.

But he also blamed the mass shootings problem on violence in America’s culture.

“This speaks to bigger questions of our culture. What are we teaching our kids? Look at the violence in our culture,” he said. “There are bigger questions here than a narrow law.”

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