America’s deadly weekend of more mass shootings raise stakes for Senate gun talks

America's deadly weekend of more mass shootings raise stakes for Senate gun talks

In South Carolina and Texas, victims were shot at a high school graduation party. In Kentucky, funeral goers were hit outside a church. Multiple shooters sprayed a crowd with bullets in Philadelphia. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, shots rang out at a nightclub.

Just America going about its normal business this weekend under the deadly daily shadow of gun violence, as a staggering 10 mass shootings since Friday deepened trauma from recent massacres at a Buffalo supermarket, a Texas elementary school and a mass shooting at a Tulsa, Oklahoma medical center.

The horrific new trail of death and injury, of broken families and mourning and fear, raised the stakes for the Senate’s latest effort to finally do something to stem the shootings and massacres and the costs for yet another political failure.

The effort, led by Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy and Texas Sen John Cornyn, a Republican, reaches a critical point this week. It won’t be enough to end the violence in a nation awash in firearms. But if even one massacre is averted by incremental measures and some lives are saved, it could mark an important political win, and a sign that Washington can actually do something to mitigate a deadly threat.

Murphy told AWN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that despite formidable obstacles to success, he had never been more confident of getting something done after years fighting to tighten firearms laws following the massacre at an elementary school in his state in 2012, after which, reforms failed in Congress.

“I’ve never been part of negotiations as serious as these. There are more Republicans at the table talking about changing our gun laws, investing in mental health than at any time since Sandy Hook,” Murphy told AWN’s Jake Tapper. “I’ve also been part of many failed negotiations in the past, so I’m sober-minded about our chances.”

Murphy said that the most likely areas for progress included “red flag” laws that can be used to confiscate weapons from people who are judged a danger or some tightening of background check rules in addition to more resources for mental health.


A fierce political debate

There is no realistic chance that President Joe Biden’s appeal in a moving televised address last Thursday for a ban on assault-style weapons used in many recent massacres will be successful.

And even if Cornyn and Murphy can forge a deal, there will still be a gut check moment for Republican senators. At least 10 of them will be needed to vote with Democrats to overcome the filibuster requirement for a super majority in most votes in the chamber. And backing any restriction carries the risk of being branded a traitor by the most activist Republican voters who decide primaries and oppose any form of new restrictions.

GOP leaders like ex-President Donald Trump are meanwhile portraying any tinkering around the edges of gun laws as the start of an inevitable slippery slope towards ending the Second Amendment, an exaggeration and mischaracterization that has often scuppered action in the past.

Still, there are signs that the momentum towards tighter gun restrictions is growing in the country with polls showing majority support for tighter background checks and assault weapons bans. In one case, a group of 250 people who identified themselves as conservatives and gun owners took out an ad in the Dallas Morning News calling on Cornyn to work to enhance gun control.

“We vote for Republican Senators. We believe in the Second Amendment. Like many, we are struggling for good answers to our current problem of gun violence in America,” the group wrote in an open letter.

But the structural impediments for reform remain strong. While many Americans see their right to bear arms as a critical plank of self-defense and national identity, polls show even many Republicans consider some kind of sensible extra regulations is necessary. But an activist minority in the GOP and the power of the gun lobby has thwarted almost all reform efforts in response to mass killings in recent years.

The question before the Senate this week then is not just whether the nation’s political estrangement allows the passage of some action to make the country a little safer. It is whether a genuine debate is even possible in a bitterly divided Washington about the true causes of the deaths of so many innocent people.

“Enough, Enough,” Biden said on Thursday soon after his second trip in a few weeks to console those left behind after one of America’s mass killings. His words found an echo Sunday in Chattanooga, Tennessee where the city’s mayor spent his second weekend in a row holding a news conference after a mass killing.

“Once again, we had people decide to solve their issues with firearms,” said Mayor Tim Kelly, who is not officially affiliated with either party and who says he is a hunter and favors responsible gun ownership but wants to see expanded background checks and limits on high capacity magazines.

He continued, “I’m tired of standing in front of you talking about guns and bodies.”

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