Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer swiftly implemented a pair of gun background check bills on Wednesday in response to the school massacre in Texas. But the Democrat acknowledged Congress’s adamant rejection of previous legislation aimed at curbing the national epidemic of gun violence.
Schumer implored his fellow Republicans to put aside the powerful gun lobby and cross the very aisle 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 threw up his hands at what might seem like an inevitable outcome: “If the massacre of school children can’t convince Republicans to counter the NRA, what can we do?
the murder of at least 19 children plus 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 substantial federal legislation to curb gun violence in America.
Congress has not approved a gun background check bill after 20 kindergartners were fatally shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School nearly a decade ago, and it marked the beginning of the end of federal gun violence legislation.
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.
“We accept this as the new normal,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said on “CBS Mornings.” “It’s our choice.”
While President Joe Biden has declared “we must act,” substantial gun violence legislation has been blocked by Republicans, often with a handful of conservative Democrats.
Despite the increase in mass shootings in communities nationwide – two in the past two weeks alone, including Tuesday in Texas and the racist murder of black shoppers in a Buffalo, New York market 10 days earlier – lawmakers were unwilling to set aside their differences and go against 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 an event Saturday morning outside a Tucson grocery store, and several Republican lawmakers from a congressional baseball team were shot during practice in the morning.
“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.’ So it’s just normal now, which is ridiculous.
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. .
“Every moment is just awful, but when you have babies, grandkids, as innocent as they come, oh my God,” Manchin told reporters Tuesday night when news broke of the Texas shooting, noting that he had 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.
A modest effort to strengthen the federal background check system for gun purchases was enacted after the Parkland school shooting in Florida in 2018. The “Fix NICS” measure, which provided cash to states to comply with the existing national instant criminal background check system and penalize federal agencies that don’t, stalled on its own before being rolled into a larger bill needed to keep the government going working.
Former President Donald Trump promised to act in 2019, after back-to-back mass shootings have rocked the nation when a gunman opened fire at a mall in El Paso and another targeted a popular nightlife spot 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.
The two languished in the 50-50 Senate where Democrats have a narrow majority due to Vice President Kamala Harris’ ability to vote in a tie but need at least 10 Republicans to overcome a filibuster.
The stalemate has renewed calls to end the Senate Filibuster Rules for legislation, as the Senate has already done for nominations, 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 told reporters he was on his way to Texas and would speak to them later. 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.