The deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history happened just a few hours ago, and Democratic members of Congress have already drawn their political battle lines.
Some notable Democrats in Congress are going so far as to blame their colleagues’ inaction for the shooting, accusing the gun rights lobby of making money off this, as well as demanding changes to gun laws — changes they almost certainly won’t get as long as Republicans control Congress.
It’s a cycle we’ve seen repeated after nearly every recent mass shooting in the United States since the 2012 massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. And the politics, especially on the left, only seem to get more heated more quickly with each shooting.
A week after the now-second-deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history — at a gay nightclub in Orlando in June 2016 — House Democrats walked out of a moment of silence held for the victims. Then they staged a 26-hour sit-in on the House floor to protest the Republican majority’s decision not to vote on changes to gun laws.
It all ended with a whimper. Republican leaders never did bring up bills for a vote. Senate Democrats launched a 15-hour filibuster. They got four votes on four popular gun-control measures, all of which failed.
This time, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who has become one of Congress’s loudest advocates for gun control since Newtown, accused Congress of sitting “on its ass.”
“It is positively infuriating that my colleagues in Congress are so afraid of the gun industry that they pretend there aren’t public policy responses to this epidemic. There are, and the thoughts and prayers of politicians are cruelly hollow if they are paired with continued legislative indifference,” he said.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was just as aggressive:
I’m heartsick for people in Nevada & across the country who woke up to this news & are worried that their family & friends are ok.
(Both Murphy and Warren are considered 2020 presidential contenders.)
And on his campaign account, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) called the Las Vegas shooting a “grim win” for the gun industry.
Grim win for soulless gun industry. Gun sales will now soar — from those afraid, & surely from a few who would immitate. $$ all the same. https://twitter.com/washingtonpost/status/914802968867860480 …
A spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association did not immediately return a request for comment about Democrats’ attacks more broadly.
The problem for Democrats is that it seems that no matter how loudly they cry out after a shooting that the nation’s gun laws are to blame, they haven’t been able to change much.
The National Rifle Association spent tens of millions to help get Trump and other Republicans elected and gain full control of Washington. This fall, a Republican-controlled Congress could vote on deregulating gun silencers and opening up concealed-carry permits to transfer across state lines.
But Democrats don’t really have a choice but to go hard after gun laws in the wake of a headline-grabbing shooting. They are fresh off an election year during which gun control took center stage in many of their campaigns. Hillary Clinton made it a piece of her platform in a way no modern Democratic presidential candidate has.
As I wrote in the wake of the Orlando shooting:
“For the first time in decades — perhaps ever — [Democrats] and their base feel like the wind is at their backs. And the fact that their bold and sometimes aggressive tactics in the weeks after Orlando are a reflection of a nascent gun control movement that has found its feet.”
And Democrats believe public opinion is on their side. A July poll from Quinnipiac University finds that a majority of Americans in every age group support stricter gun laws.
Background checks are universally popular no matter which way you slice the data, and a majority of people think more guns would make the nation less safe. (Notable: This poll was taken after the shooting at Republicans’ Congressional Baseball Game practice.)
But national Democrats may do well to recalibrate their message. Success in the gun-control world often means playing defense. Gun-control advocates helped defeat nearly two dozen bills in state legislatures this year to allow guns in public without a permit and 17 more to allow guns in schools. And that was a major victory for them.
In Congress, victory will almost certainly be measured by how long it takes to hold off defeat on silencer and concealed-carry legislation.
Democrats have gotten louder, more direct and overtly more political after each shooting, in part because they feel they have no choice. So far, though, little about the nation’s gun laws has changed as a result.