“What are we doing?” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy asked the U.S. Senate multiple times Tuesday following the latest mass shooting in the U.S., which killed 21 in a Texas elementary school. He asked his colleagues why they bothered running for the Senate if they plan to stand by and do nothing on gun violence in the country.
“We have another Sandy Hook on our hands,” he said.
Murphy’s exasperation, expressed by others such as Golden State Warriors NBA coach Steve Kerr, comes after the U.S. Congress has continuously turned down legislation to control guns in the country over the near-decade since a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut killed 26. That shooting saw a 20-year-old gunman enter the school on Dec. 14, 2012, and kill 20 children between the ages of six and seven, as well as six staff members.
Tuesday’s shooting in Uvalde, Texas, came 10 days after another gunman opened fire at a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., killing 10.
In Sandy Hook’s wake, then-U.S. president Barack Obama promised to take action on gun control, assigning the then-vice president, Joe Biden, to lead a task force looking into what could be done.
“It won’t be easy — but that can’t be an excuse not to try,” Obama said five days after the school shooting.
'Our country is paralyzed'
By January 2013, Biden’s task force had come up with 23 executive actions to curb gun violence that Obama signed. They included:
- directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research the causes of gun violence
- launching a nationwide responsible gun ownership campaign
- training law enforcement, first responders and school officials on how to handle active shooter situations
- launching a national campaign centred on mental health
In April 2013, a bipartisan proposal from Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey aimed to expand the U.S.’s background check system to most gun sales.
Nearly a decade later, though, few policies have been approved on gun control. The National Rifle Association came out against the bill in 2013 and it was defeated in the Senate 54 to 46, with only four Republicans supporting it. Sixty votes were needed for the bill to pass.
Obama brought up the memory of Sandy Hook when addressing the recent tragedy in Texas, in which an 18-year-old gunman entered Robb Elementary School, barricaded a classroom and began shooting, according to officials.
Obama not only expressed grief in his message but also anger.
“Our country is paralyzed, not by fear, but by a gun lobby and a political party that have shown no willingness to act in any way that might prevent these tragedies,” he wrote.
“It’s long past time for action, any kind of action.”
Now U.S. president, Biden also shared Obama’s frustration Tuesday, saying that it is now time to “have the courage to deal” with the country’s weapons industry.
“It’s time to turn this pain into action,” he said on Twitter.
After the failed effort immediately following Sandy Hook in 2013, efforts picked up once again for a similar background check bill in 2016 after a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., that killed 49 people. The bill once again did not get approved.
It wasn’t until 2018, after 17 died in a shooting by a 19-year-old at a high school in Parkland, Fla., that a tweak to federal gun background checks did pass into law. The “Fix NICS” measure provided funding to states that comply with the existing National Instant Criminal Background Check system, and penalized federal agencies that don’t. The measure stalled on its own but made it through in a broader bill that was needed to keep the government running later that year.
A Las Vegas shooting in October 2017 that killed 59 also pushed then-U.S. president Donald Trump’s administration to ban bump stocks that were used in the incident and allowed semi-automatic weapons to fire like machine guns in late 2018.
That momentum ended, though, in 2019, after back-to-back shootings in El Paso and Dayton that killed 32 people in total in August of that year. Trump had promised action on guns but efforts to expand background checks were sidetracked as lawmakers turned to an impeachment process against the president, Sen. Murphy had said at the time, who was negotiating the controls.
The Trump administration had also tried to issue guidance that could have outlawed stabilizing bracers that can steady a shooter’s aim but withdrew the effort after opposition from the White House, Republicans and gun rights groups.
Loopholes and lawsuits
Since Biden was sworn in as president in 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed two bills to expand background checks on firearms purchases, one of which would have closed a loophole for private and online sales while the other would have extended the background check review period. Neither bill made it past the Senate.
Rather than relying on the U.S. Congress, some victims’ families took matters into their own hands, namely suing gun manufacturers. In February, the families of nine Sandy Hook victims reached a $73-million settlement against Remington, which made the rifle used in the shooting. The families and a survivor said their focus is on preventing more mass shootings by forcing gun companies to be more responsible with their products and how they market them.
Biden addressed gun marketing on Wednesday, tweeting: “It’s just sick that gun manufacturers have spent two decades aggressively marketing assault weapons which make them some of the biggest profits.”
Now, after the two most recent mass shootings, efforts seem to be sparking again to control guns in the U.S. Biden in a tweet Tuesday referenced a 10-year ban on assault weapons that began in 1994 but was not renewed in 2004, saying that during its tenure shootings went down and since its end, have tripled.
“The idea that an 18-year-old kid could walk into a gun store and buy two assault weapons is just wrong,” Biden said, referencing the Robb Elementary shooter.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer set into motion a pair of firearms background-check bills Wednesday, but acknowledged their slim chances against the U.S. Senate.
Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association is set to hold its annual meeting Friday in Houston, not far from the site of the latest mass shooting. Republicans Trump, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn are all scheduled to speak at the event.
— with files from The Associated Press and Reuters