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How Washington reacted to the Nashville school shooting is sadly unsurprising

Passing a gun bill required just the right circumstances in Washington last year. Those don’t exist anymore with Republican control

Eric Garcia
Tuesday 28 March 2023 19:42 BST
(Getty Images)

Senator Chris Murphy is perhaps the most outspoken advocate for gun safety legislation. The Connecticut Democrat had just won his first term in the Senate and wasn’t even sworn in when a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, which is located in his home state.

Ever since then, after nearly every major mass shooting, he’s gone on the Senate floor to call for Congress to do something. But after the shooting in Nashville, Tennessee that left six people, including three nine-year-old children, dead, he seemed more resigned.

“I’ll continue to push for legislation and at some point, we should talk about putting votes on the floor,” he told The Independent on Monday. Mr Murphy’s call for more votes is really all that Democrats can do after the shooting in Nashville.

With only 51 votes in the Senate–not counting the fact that Senators Dianne Feinstein of California and John Fetterman of Pennsylvania are out for health issues–they can’t overcome the 60-vote threshold that is the filibuster. So all they can really do is put Republicans on record and pray that voters see it.

On top of that, Republicans now hold the majority — albeit narrowly — in the House of Representatives, which makes action on guns much less likely.

“I think America wants to see where people stand on some of these issues, whether it be, whether it be universal background checks or assault weapons, so we’ll continue to talk about what path forward we have on compromise legislation,” Mr Murphy said.

Mr Murphy notched an important win last year when he and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, then a Democrat who has since become an independent, negotiated compromise legislation with Republican Senators Thom Tillis of North Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas to pass the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in the wake of the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

That bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan consensus to the extent that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell supported it. It also effectively took the issue of gun violence off the table before a midterm election, which likely helped Republicans (incidentally, the House voted on it the same day the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, which likely staved off a red wave). But that Herculean effort required a Democratic trifecta, to say nothing of the fact President Joe Biden has focused on gun violence since he was a Senator.

Similarly, Democratic Representative Lucy McBath, of Georgia, seemed optimistic but also realistic.

“It’s not any one particular bill or one particular policy, but it is things such as assault weapons, it is expanding background checks for all gun sales, it is a federal red flag law, it is safe storage,” she told The Independent. Ms McBath, who is Black, got involved in politics after a white man shot and killed her son Jordan Davis. Since then, she won a seat in the House in 2018 as part of the blue wave that hit the suburbs of Atlanta.

But already, Republicans like Representative Tim Burchett of Tennessee, a conservative who nonetheless gets along with Democrats like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, told reporters bluntly “We’re not gonna fix it. Criminals are going to be criminals.”

Meanwhile, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia used the fact that the shooter was reportedly transgender to deflect from blaming guns, tweeting “How much hormones like testosterone and medications for mental illness was the transgender Nashville school shooter taking? Everyone can stop blaming guns now.”

Ms Greene’s closeness with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy likely means no gun legislation will come to the House floor.

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