New gun control action after congressional shooting? Don't bet on it
Posted June 15
For anyone who thought a high-caliber assault on their own ranks might move Washington Republicans to reconsider their resistance to new gun control legislation, think again.
In the aftermath of the an attempted mass assassination of GOP congressmen on a baseball field Wednesday morning in Virginia, Capitol Hill buzzed with calls for unity and bipartisan prayers for wounded Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise. And while some lawmakers argued it was time to address an increasingly toxic political environment, others, members of Congress but mostly partisan pundits (and a son of President Donald Trump, though not the President himself), rushed to blame the attack on political rivals.
Notably absent from the chatter was any serious discussion of restricting access to the kind of firearm used by the alleged shooter, 66-year-old James Hodgkinson. Republicans postponed a planned hearing on the "Sportsmen's Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act," a bill that would loosen restrictions on the purchase of silencers and make it easier to move guns across state lines. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said there were too many guns on the streets. But that was about it. Even among the ranks of the most vocal gun control advocates, caution ruled -- along with a wariness over being seen as using the attack to advance a political argument.
"Far too many Americans know what it's like to be shot or have a loved one killed by gun violence," John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a brief statement. "We're grateful to Capitol Police for their quick response and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragic event."
For Republicans who did address the gun question, their remarks were consistent with the party's broad-based opposition to any tightening of restrictions. New York Rep. Chris Collins lurched in the other direction, telling Buffalo's WKBW he would, going forward, "be carrying (a licensed firearm) when I'm out and about."
"On a rare occasion (in the past), you know, I'd have my gun in the glove box or something," he added, "but it's going to be in my pocket from this day forward."
In an interview with CNN's Brianna Keilar, Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, also a Republican, suggested "social media and the 24-hour news cycle" deserved a share of the blame.
"This could be the first political rhetorical terrorist attack, and that has to stop," he said. "This hatefulness that we see in this country today over policy differences has got to stop."
But it was Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, who shared a detailed and harrowing description of the scene on CNN earlier in the day, whose defiance marked the day.
Asked by ABC7/WJLA reporter Sam Sweeney if the attack would cause him to reconsider his views on gun control, Brooks made a detailed argument for why it would and should not.
"Not with respect to the Second Amendment," the GOP congressman said in a response that quickly went viral. "The Second Amendment right to bear arms is to ensure that we always have a republic. And as with any constitutional provision in the Bill of Rights, there are adverse aspects to each of those rights that we enjoy as people. And what we just saw here is one of the bad side effects of someone not exercising those rights properly."
If Democrats disagreed with Brooks' assessment, and many surely did, then they did it mostly in private. Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, among the most passionate and prolific gun control advocates on Capitol Hill, kept his typically fiery Twitter feed at a low burn.
After an initial reaction -- "Oh my god" -- and a follow up post offering support to Scalise, the Capitol Police and "everyone who was on the scene," Murphy's feed switched its focus to the still-secret Senate Republican health care bill.
It was only later, at 7:36 p.m. ET, that he shared an image that landed less like an argument than a worried coda. The tweet featured an image of Mark Barden and Nicole Hockley, both parents to a child killed in Newtown, Connecticut, on stage at the previously scheduled "Sandy Hook Promise Gala."
Said Murphy: "A heavy way to end a heavy day."
It was not until Thursday afternoon, in a brief essay posted to Facebook, that Murphy, after cheering his colleagues' resilience, asked: "What does it say about us as a country that we can so easily move on from such a seemingly cataclysmic event?"
The short answer, it seems, is that no one expects to Congress to act, one way or another -- and they're not going to hold their breath waiting.