Republican senator caught on his phone at opening of emotional hearing into domestic terrorism and Buffalo massacre

Cornyn is senator leading GOP negotiations on gun reform after twin tragedies in Buffalo and Uvalde

Gun deal within reach, U.S. Senators say

A Texas Republican senator was spotted using his phone while witnesses gave their opening statements at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday called in response to the massacre in Buffalo, New York.

John Cornyn was seen looking down and scrolling on his device while a former US district attorney gave his remarks to the panel.

Senators are meeting to discuss a rise in domestic terrorism including attacks by the far-right wing, including white supremacists and Islamophobic incidents. The Buffalo shooting is thought to have been committed by an 18-year-old who espoused the racist “white replacement theory”.

Mr Cornyn has come into prominence in the days since the shooting in Buffalo, as well as a horrific attack in his home state of Texas, after accepting a role as the lead GOP negotiator on the issue of reforms to gun laws as well as efforts to improve security at schools. All eyes are on the evenly-divded 50-50 Senate, where any legislation responding to America’s tragic struggle to stop school shootings and other instances of mass gun violence face a steep uphill battle to passage.

The Texas senator remains a strong opponent of most efforts to restrict ownership of firearms, telling CNN’s Manu Raju on Tuesday: "You're talking about a constitutional right to keep and bear arms – people who are law-abiding citizens are in good mental health and aren't a threat to the public.”

And in remarks on the Senate floor, he declared: “I’m a proud supporter of the Second Amendment. Period,” while seeming to indicate that there would be little Republican agreement on the issues of firearms, which GOP lawmakers continue to oppose virtually any efforts to keep out of the hands of teenagers like the shooters in Buffalo or Uvalde, or even to allow law enforcement to temporarily get firearms out of the hands of individuals who are judged by professionals to be a danger to themselves or others.

Other GOP senators have shown even less interest in taking the matter of America’s gun violence crisis seriously. Ron Johnson, a senator from Wisconsin known for his frequent controversial statements, made a bizarre pivot when asked by HuffPost’s Arthur Delaney about a potential waiting period for under-21 gun buyers: “Before we pass anything new, let’s enforce the laws we already have. Let’s start with Hunter Biden.”

The rise of white supremacist violence in the US and elsewhere has long concerned law enforcement authorities at the federal and international levels, as well as groups that work to fight racism. In January, the Justice Department announced the formation of a special unit dedicated to combatting domestic extremism, which includes such groups and ideas.

"We have seen a growing threat from those who are motivated by racial animus, as well as those who ascribe to extremist anti-government and anti-authority ideologies," assistant attorney general Matthew Olsen said in a news release in January.

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