WASHINGTON (AP) — The deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas renewed Democrats’ calls Monday for gun safety legislation, but their pleas fell on deaf ears in the Republican-controlled Congress. At the same time GOP legislation aimed at loosening gun rules stood in limbo, facing an uncertain future.
Before the shooting that killed at least 59 people — the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history — House GOP leaders had been moving forward with bills to ease regulations on gun silencers and allow people with concealed-carry permits to take their weapons to other states.
Republicans have been upbeat about prospects for legislation as they control both the House and Senate and have an ally in the White House in President Donald Trump. But no votes on either bill were scheduled as of Monday.
Democrats seized on the violence in Nevada to demand tougher gun restrictions.
“What Congress can do — what Congress must do — is pass laws that keep our citizens safe,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said on the Senate floor. “And that starts with laws that help prevent guns, especially the most dangerous guns, from falling into the wrong hands.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a gun control proponent, said it was “time for Congress to get off its ass and do something.” In an outdoor news conference, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, grievously wounded in a 2011 attack, turned to the Capitol, raised her fist and said, “The nation is counting on you.”
But no action was expected, as other mass shootings in Colorado, Connecticut, and Florida, and even attacks on lawmakers, failed to unite Congress on any legislative response. A bipartisan bill on background checks failed in the Senate four years ago, and since then Republicans have usually pointed to mental health legislation when questioned about the appropriate congressional response to gun violence.
Instead, Republicans have been pushing a pair of NRA-backed bills to loosen firearms restrictions. A Republican-led House committee last month backed the silencer bill by Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, who said it would help hunters protect their hearing.
Democrats scoffed, noting that the bill also would allow more armor-piercing ammunition. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi invoked the June shooting of Majority Whip Steve Scalise to oppose the bill last week, saying, “If you can hear (a gunshot) you can run” away.
Hillary Clinton tweeted Monday that the crowd in Las Vegas “fled at the sound of gunshots. Imagine the deaths if the shooter had a silencer, which the NRA wants to make easier to get.”
Pelosi on Monday asked House Speaker Paul Ryan to create a select committee on gun violence to recommend legislation. A group of Democratic lawmakers asked Ryan to remove the bill from the House calendar indefinitely.
Ryan ordered the flags of the Capitol to fly at half-staff, and issued a statement saying, “the whole country stands united in our shock, in our condolences and in our prayers.” But the speaker has shown no interest in legislation to tighten up gun laws.
In an interview with The Associated Press last month, he said Congress needs to fund mental health reforms. “But if you’re saying that this Republican Congress is going to infringe upon Second Amendment rights, we’re not going to do that,” he said.
Duncan, who grew up hunting with his father, included the silencer measure in a larger bill to expand hunting and fishing on federal lands. He suffers from hearing loss in one ear as a result of firing guns without earmuffs or suppressors, the term advocates prefer to “silencers.” The devices muffle the noise of gunshots rather than mute it.
Donald Trump Jr., an avid hunter, supports the bill and says it’s about safety. “It’s a health issue, frankly,” Trump said in an interview last year with SilencerCo, a Utah silencer manufacturer.
A separate bill sponsored by Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., would allow any gun owner with a state-issued concealed carry permit to conceal a handgun in any state that allows concealed carry. Hudson said the bill would allow gun owners to “travel freely between states without worrying about conflicting state codes or onerous civil suits.”
Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, returned to the Capitol last week after he was shot and critically wounded in June as he and fellow Republicans practiced for a congressional baseball game.
The structural impediments to change, meanwhile are formidable. Many Republicans sincerely believe their stance on the gun issue is fundamental to the character of America itself. The National Rifle Association maintains a dominant role in Republican politics, and can also threaten Senate Democrats facing re-election in red states next year. Still, the renewed debate on this emotive issue underlines the ever widening gulf of perception separating liberals and conservatives.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, meanwhile, choked up when describing the heroism of concert-goers who used their bodies to shield others.
But while the emotion in the White House was heartfelt, the administration showed no evidence that it was contemplating any political shift on guns.
“Today is … a day of reflection, a day of mourning, a day of gratefulness for those that were saved,” said Sanders, voicing the familiar GOP refrain that the aftermath of mass shootings is a bad time to discuss gun control.
“I think that there will be, certainly, time for that policy discussion to take place. But that’s not the place that we’re in at this moment,” she said.
Other Republicans went further.
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin tweeted, “to all those political opportunists who are seizing on the tragedy in Las Vegas to call for more gun regs…You can’t regulate evil…”
A CNN poll in June 2016, conducted after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, found that 68% of Republicans opposed more restrictive measures.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a longtime champion of stricter gun laws, was asked Monday whether anything will change after the Vegas shooting.
“You know, I thought Sandy Hook would. I thought Columbine would. I thought 101 California would,” she said. “None of that did.”