‘F-cking Nuts to Do Nothing.’ Democrats Vent After Uvalde.
HOurs after an AR-15-armed gunman entered a Uvalde elementary school classroom and killed 19 students. On Tuesday, Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut came to the Senate floor in a variant of his passionate plea for justice.
“I am here on this floor to beg—to literally get down on my hands and knees and beg my colleagues,” said Murphy. “Find a path forward here. Working with us, we can find a solution to making this more likely. I understand my Republican colleagues may not agree to everything I support, but there is a common denominator we can find.”
This was the first time that a speech was made for a mass shooting. However, it reminded us of an existing storyline: An individual gunman attacks a school or grocery store. Various gun control advocates urge legislators to address the problems that led to the murders. Democratic lawmakers are trying to come to an agreement with Republican colleagues.
Then Congress doesn’t do anything.
This was Murphy’s 2012 experience as a member of Congress representing Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 victims, including 20 children were killed by a gunman. The feeling of frustration and incompetence among Democrats at the Capitol was similar to the Texas massacre of a decade earlier.
“I hope to get a bill to the floor as quickly as possible. But you know what’s going to happen is it’s going to fail,” Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, told reporters Wednesday. “We are caught in the most perverse version of Groundhog Day, where we are literally seeing this over and over and over again, with nothing changing.”
Amid renewed calls to action on Tuesday from Murphy and others, many lawmakers couldn’t hide their indignation that, once again, any substantive proposals tackling the problem were widely viewed as dead on arrival. “It’s f-cking nuts to do nothing about this,” says Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona, whose wife Gabby Giffords, a former Congresswoman, was shot and nearly killed in a 2011 assassination attempt.
Some legislators are definitely trying. SomethingHowever, those efforts felt somewhat performative given the unevenly divided Senate in which supporters of gun control legislation lack the 60 votes necessary to avoid a filibuster. Less than a day after the shooting, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer initiated a legislative process called “Rule 14,” which will allow two House-passed gun control bills to advance without committee hearings. Background checks would be required to sell more types of guns, such as online or at gun shows. Another would grant the FBI twenty days to do background checks on anyone who wants to purchase guns from dealers. Since March 2021, both bills were inlimbo.
Several Democratic lawmakers quickly threw cold water on the prospect of these bills—or less expansive ones, like national “red flag laws” that allow law enforcement to temporarily take guns from people deemed to be a threat—passing the Senate’s 60-vote threshold.
Republicans say “they are disturbed, upset, troubled, but not willing to change where they are,” says Sen. Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware. “This is a bad day for anything even vaguely looking like hope or optimism around legislative progress.
“Usually, I want to be more optimistic,” he adds, “but I don’t think it will change.”
A few Republicans stated that they are open to limited measures. Senator Pat Toomey, from Pennsylvania, said he will consider expanding background check, pointing out a compromise bill he had proposed with Sen. Joe Manchin (a centrist Democrat, West Virginia) after the Sandy Hook shooting. “My interest in doing something to improve and expand our background check system remains,” said Toomey, adding that he thinks a plan like that “would have the best chance” of getting more GOP support.
Republican Senators. Susan Collins of Maine, Roy Blunt of Missouri, and Rick Scott of Florida, told reporters on Wednesday that they were perhaps open to a federal “red or yellow flag law,” which can allow local law enforcement to temporarily remove guns from people who pose a violent risk to their communities. These laws have been passed in at least 19 states including Florida and Maine. “That is the kind of law that could have made a difference in this case,” Collins says, citing media reports about the shooter’s mental health.
The Senators, however, were vague as to what the red flags laws would look like at federal level. However, Sen. Mitt, who is a prominent centrist Republican and was speaking out on behalf of Utah’s senators, stated that red flags laws should still be established at state level despite the fact that there has not been enough political will in Texas to support such policies. “They’re administered at the state level [now], and each state has a different approach,” he says. “That makes sense. Let’s have the states do it.”
Others Republicans weren’t as open to federal restrictions on gun access. “I’m very sorry it happened,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville, an Alabama Republican, says of the Uvalde shooting, “but guns are not the problem. People are the problem.”
Murphy concluded his fervent floor speech on Tuesday night with a series of questions: “Why are we here? What are we doing?”
If history is any indication, the answer to that second query is not in doubt: Congress hasn’t passed a major bill to limit gun ownership since 1994. That bill, also known as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban or FAWB, was repealed in 2004 by a sunset provision.
It is not likely that this track record will change. The House is not currently in session. Senators will be leaving town for the Thanksgiving weekend. Lawmakers will return after a recess with more time having passed since the shooting, and possibly less motivation to address the issue—at least, until the next mass shooting restarts the cycle.
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