WASHINGTON– Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer quickly rolled out a pair of background check bills for gun buyers on Wednesday in response to the Texas school massacre. But the Democrat acknowledged Congress’s adamant rejection of previous legislation aimed at curbing the national epidemic of gun violence.
Schumer implored fellow Republicans to put aside the powerful gun lobby and reach out for even a modest compromise bill. But no vote is expected.
“Please, please, please put yourself in these parents’ shoes just for once,” Schumer said as he opened the Senate.
He raised his hands at what might seem like an inevitable outcome: “If the school boy massacre can’t convince the Republicans to counter the NRA, what can we do?”
The killing of at least 19 children and a teacher at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, laid bare the political reality that the US Congress has been unwilling or unable to pass substantive federal legislation to combat gun violence in America.
In many ways, the end of all gun violence legislation in Congress was signaled a decade ago when the Senate failed to approve a gun background check bill after 20 children, mostly aged 6 and 7, were killed when a gunman opened fire. at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Despite the outpouring of grief Wednesday after the extremely similar Texas massacre, it’s not at all clear that there will be a different outcome.
“It’s our choice,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., lamented on “CBS Mornings.”
While President Joe Biden has declared “we must act”, substantial legislation on gun violence has been blocked by Republicans, often with a handful of conservative Democrats.
Despite the rise in mass shootings in communities across the country — two in the past two weeks alone, including Tuesday in Texas and the racist killing of black shoppers at a Buffalo, New York, market 10 days earlier — lawmakers were unwilling to set aside their differences and buck the gun lobby to find a compromise.
Even the targeting of theirs has not moved Congress to act. Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, was shot in the head during a Saturday morning event outside a Tucson grocery store in 2011, and several Republican lawmakers from a congressional baseball team were shot years later during a morning workout.
“The conclusion is the same,” said Sen. Cory Booker, DN.J. “I don’t see any of my fellow Republicans coming forward right now and saying, ‘Here’s a plan to stop the carnage. “”
It’s “crazy not to do anything about it,” Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Arizona, Giffords’ husband, said Wednesday using an expletive.
Republicans quickly pushed forward a bill championed by Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin that would create a national database of safe school practices. But Schumer opposed its immediate consideration, promising much broader debate and votes.
Advocating with his colleagues for a compromise, Murphy said he was reaching out to two Republican senators from Texas, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and called fellow Democrat Joe Manchin, author of the bill that failed after Sandy Hook. .
“When you have babies, grandchildren, as innocent as can be, oh my God,” Manchin told reporters, noting that he has three school-aged grandchildren. “It just doesn’t make sense why we can’t use common sense – common sense things – and try to prevent some of this from happening.”
In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, compromise legislation, drafted by Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, was supported by a majority of senators. But he fell into the filibuster – blocked by most Republicans and a handful of Democrats, unable to clear the 60-vote threshold needed to advance.
The same bill died again in 2016, after a mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
“My interest in doing something to improve and expand our background check system remains,” Toomey told reporters on Wednesday. He said he had been in contact with Murphy.
But Toomey was an outlier. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell declined to comment publicly on potential legislation, and few others added their voices to the mix. The Texas shooting was an afterthought at the senators’ private GOP luncheon on Wednesday.
Republican Senator Susan Collins said she, too, had spoken to Murphy and that Congress should focus on “what some states have done with red or yellow flag laws” – which are designed to keep guns away from people. people who could hurt themselves or others.
A known negotiator, Democratic Senator Krysten Sinema of Arizona, told reporters on Wednesday that she would begin having conversations with senators about “red flag” or other laws.
“People at home all over America are just, they’re scared. They want us to do something,” Sinema said.
But other Republicans have deemed those efforts too ambitious and instead suggested a deal could be struck to send federal funds to states to bolster security or other locally appropriate deterrents.
A modest effort to strengthen the federal background check system for gun purchases was enacted in 2018 after a 2017 church shooting in Texas and the Parkland school shooting in Florida. The “Fix NICS” measure would provide money for states to comply with the national instant criminal background check system and penalize federal agencies that do not.
Former President Donald Trump vowed to act in 2019, after back-to-back mass shootings rocked the country when a gunman opened fire at a mall in El Paso and another targeted a living area popular nightlife in Ohio, killing dozens of people. In 2018, his administration banned bump stocks, attachments that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire like machine guns and were used in the October 2017 massacre in Las Vegas.
But Trump eventually backed out of the proposals, under pressure from both the National Rifle Association and other groups.
Biden, whose party has little control of Congress, has failed to get the gun violence bills past what is now mostly Republican opposition in the Senate.
Last year, the House passed two bills to expand background checks on gun purchases. We would have closed a loophole for private and online sales. The other would have extended the background screening period, a response to a church shooting of black people by a white man in South Carolina.
Schumer immediately put them in motion for the votes after the two languished in the 50-50 Senate where Democrats have only a narrow majority due to Vice President Kamala Harris’ ability to vote in a tie and need of at least 10 Republicans to overcome a buccaneer. .
The standoff renewed calls to scrap Senate filibuster rules for legislation, lowering the threshold to a 51-vote majority for passage.
“Why are you going through all the hassle of getting this job, putting yourself in a position of authority if your answer is that as the slaughter increases, as our children run for their lives, we do nothing ?” Murphy said in a fiery speech Tuesday night as news of the Texas massacre spread.
Cornyn was on his way to Uvalde on Wednesday. Cruz released a statement calling it “a dark day. We are all completely sickened and heartbroken.”
Associated Press writers Darlene Superville, Mary Clare Jalonick, Alan Fram and Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.