The deadliest mass shooting in modern American history has thrust the bitter debate about gun rights back to the center of Washington politics. Predictably, everyone is reaching for familiar scripts. With at least 59 dead and over 500 injured, Democrats are already demanding more gun control, while Republicans, who oppose new firearms laws, have offered condolences and prayers. But the big question is what this will mean to the gun rights debate in the coming days.
Liberals voiced disbelief that such bloodletting, this time at a country music festival, had happened yet again. Sen. Elizabeth Warren warned on Twitter: “Thoughts and prayers are NOT enough.”
For their part, Republicans accused Democrats of politicizing a tragedy. Sen. John Cornyn said, “I just think this is disgusting,” referring to the politicization by the Democrats.
Much is still to be learned about the shooter, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock. We know he fired down on 22,000 revelers from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel late Sunday night. We will learn more about him in the months to come.
But what about new gun laws? The irony is that when President Obama and Democrats controlled policy, in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, they did nothing to pass new gun restrictions. But now that Republicans are in control, they would have us think such inaction is cruel and unpatriotic.
To his credit, President Trump’s immediate reaction has been measured and sympathetic. He has struck the right notes of grief and shock while calling for national unity. Trump has offered solace while avoiding the temptation to leverage tragedy for political gain. He said, “We pray for the entire nation to find unity and peace. And we pray for the day when evil is banished, and the innocent are safe from hatred and fear.”
Democrats have not missed a second in their attempt to take political advantage of the mass shooting. Sen. Chris Murphy told Congress to “get off its ______.” Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton refused to join Trump’s call for silence, saying on Twitter: “It’s time for action.” And Hillary Clinton has called the massacre “terrible and sickening,” while demanding further gun control laws.
What Will Happen
The middle of the nation is shrinking. While polls show most Americans favor greater background checks on gun purchases, it probably wouldn’t have mattered in this case, anyway. Conservatives will continue to point out that most mass shootings would not have been affected by the new laws that are often bantered about. Further, they will suggest that anyone evil enough to pick up a gun and kill dozens of innocent lives is unlikely to be deterred by new gun laws. And on that point, they would be right.