The horrific new trail of death and injury, of broken families and mourning and fear, raised the stakes for the Senate’s latest effort to finally do something to stem the shootings and massacres and the costs for yet another political failure.
The effort, led by Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy and Texas Sen John Cornyn, a Republican, reaches a critical point this week. It won’t be enough to end the violence in a nation awash in firearms. But if even one massacre is averted by incremental measures and some lives are saved, it could mark an important political win, and a sign that Washington can actually do something to mitigate a deadly threat.
“I’ve never been part of negotiations as serious as these. There are more Republicans at the table talking about changing our gun laws, investing in mental health than at any time since Sandy Hook,” Murphy told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “I’ve also been part of many failed negotiations in the past, so I’m sober-minded about our chances.”
A fierce political debate
There is no realistic chance that President Joe Biden’s appeal in a moving televised address last Thursday for a ban on assault-style weapons used in many recent massacres will be successful.
GOP leaders like ex-President Donald Trump are meanwhile portraying any tinkering around the edges of gun laws as the start of an inevitable slippery slope towards ending the Second Amendment, an exaggeration and mischaracterization that has often scuppered action in the past.
“We vote for Republican Senators. We believe in the Second Amendment. Like many, we are struggling for good answers to our current problem of gun violence in America,” the group wrote in an open letter.
But the structural impediments for reform remain strong. While many Americans see their right to bear arms as a critical plank of self-defense and national identity, polls show even many Republicans consider some kind of sensible extra regulations is necessary. But an activist minority in the GOP and the power of the gun lobby has thwarted almost all reform efforts in response to mass killings in recent years.
The question before the Senate this week then is not just whether the nation’s political estrangement allows the passage of some action to make the country a little safer. It is whether a genuine debate is even possible in a bitterly divided Washington about the true causes of the deaths of so many innocent people.
“Enough, Enough,” Biden said on Thursday soon after his second trip in a few weeks to console those left behind after one of America’s mass killings. His words found an echo Sunday in Chattanooga, Tennessee where the city’s mayor spent his second weekend in a row holding a news conference after a mass killing.
“Once again, we had people decide to solve their issues with firearms,” said Mayor Tim Kelly, who is not officially affiliated with either party and who says he is a hunter and favors responsible gun ownership but wants to see expanded background checks and limits on high capacity magazines.
He continued, “I’m tired of standing in front of you talking about guns and bodies.”
A deadly trail of weekend shootings
By early Sunday evening, figures detailing a weekend of violence had reached stunning levels, even given the regular daily toll of gun killings and incidents.
Since Friday alone, there were 10 mass shootings in the country that killed at least 12 people and injured many more. That’s not to mention all the other smaller shootings that occurred, as part of the drum beat of death. At times at the weekend, news of more shootings came in at speeds that were difficult to believe.
Of course, most Americans went about their business without coming into contact with violence. But the indiscriminate nature of shootings recently at schools, medical offices, supermarkets, at bars and at parties shows how deeply engrained the threat of gun violence is in everyday life. No one killed in these outrages had any reasons to think that their lives were about to end in relatively mundane locations.
- Three people were killed and 11 were wounded in Philadelphia on Saturday night. Police said multiple shooters fired into a crowd in the busy South Street night life area. “Once again, we see lives senselessly lost and those injured in yet another horrendous, brazen and despicable act of gun violence,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said.
- In the incident in Tennessee, two people died from gunshot wounds and 14 were hurt at a shooting in Chattanooga. A third person died after being hit by a vehicle during the incident, police said.
- Across the country, in Mesa, Arizona, two people were killed and two were wounded at a shooting at a bar.
- In Phoenix, Arizona, a 14-year-old girl died and at least eight people were injured in a downtown shooting early on Saturday morning.
- In yet another mass shooting, in Summerton, South Carolina, eight people were wounded and one was killed. Police told CNN affiliate WIS that two cars pulled into a yard where a high school graduation party was taking place. Victims ranged from 13 to 36 years old.
- Five people were wounded at another high school graduation party in Socorro,Texas, when someone started firing into a crowd.
- Three people were wounded and one was killed in an incident in Omaha, Nebraska.
- In Chesterfield, Virginia: one person was killed and another five were wounded
- And in, Macon, Georgia, three people were injured and one was killed when shots were fired in a neighborhood in Bibb County.
- In several other incidents that would not be classified as mass shootings in recent days, two people attending a funeral were shot outside a church in Lexington, Kentucky, police said. Both were injured. And on Friday, a former judge in Wisconsin was shot dead in what police called a targeted attack.
A huge political disconnect
Murphy told CNN in his interview on “State of the Union” that the recent outburst of violence across the nation had taken anxiety about gun violence to levels he had not previously seen.
“When I was in Connecticut last week, I have never seen the look on parents’ faces that I did. There’s just a deep, deep fear for our children right now,” he told Tapper. Murphy also said that there was “also a fear that government is so fundamentally broken that it can’t put politics aside to guarantee the one thing that matters most to adults in this country, the physical safety of their children.”
“And so I think the possibility of success is better than ever before,” the Connecticut Democrat said. “But I think the consequences of failure for our entire democracy are more significant than ever.”
Yet the political position of many Republicans — as the party eyes big wins in the midterm elections in November — also weighs against the chances of success.
“It immediately becomes about Democrats wanting to take away guns,” Scalise said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“Let’s go search for the root of the problem. How can we do a better job of connecting the dots and stopping something before it happens. Like we did after September 11th, which has worked really well as it relates to stopping terrorist attacks,” Scalise said. When asked why the US had far more gun killings than other developed nations where firearms are far less available, he blamed what he said were “crazy” calls by liberal Democrats to defund the police.
The difference between Murphy and Scalise on this issue underscores the reasons why hopes for progress this week in Washington are tempered by the experience of the deep chasm that exists in the US on gun reform. And it raises questions over whether Washington will ever be able to keep Americans safe.