“It’s too early” since the massacre to address gun control, one Senate Republican warned. “I really don’t know” what would work, admitted another. “It’s hard to prevent anything,” shrugged a third.
Lawmakers in President Donald Trump’s party appeared stymied Tuesday over what legislative steps, if any, to take to contain US gun violence in the aftermath of America’s deadliest shooting in modern history.
Democrats demanded swift action from Republican leaders in Congress, and from the White House, to broaden background checks or end sales of devices that convert semi-automatic rifles into rapid-fire killing machines like the ones Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock reportedly used to murder 59 people from his 32nd story hotel window.
“I have requested the president to call us together, Democrats and Republicans, to come up with a reasonable solution” to surging gun violence, top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said.
But listening in Washington to Republicans, who traditionally align closely with the powerful pro-gun lobby the National Rifle Association, it appeared gun control measures were off the table in the days after the massacre.
“The investigation’s not even been completed, and it’s premature to be discussing legislative solutions, if there are any,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters.
Inaction has been a hallmark of US legislators following spasms of deadly gun violence.
A popular bill sponsored by Republican Senator Pat Toomey and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin to expand background checks to nearly all gun sales failed to pass the Senate in April 2013, months after a shooter killed 20 elementary school children in Connecticut.
A more controversial bill to ban assault-style weapons also collapsed.
US gun laws actually have been loosened under Trump. In February he signed a bill into law rolling back an Obama-era regulation that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to buy a firearm.
Congress was also preparing to vote on a controversial plan to make it easier to purchase gun silencers, a move vehemently opposed by Democrats including 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
But on Tuesday, as the nation mourned the deaths in Las Vegas, House Speaker Paul Ryan shelved the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act.
“I don’t know when it’s going to be scheduled,” Ryan said. “Right now we’re focused on passing our budget.”
Trump, who travels Wednesday to Las Vegas, may have provided hope for gun-control groups when he signalled that a debate was possible.
“We’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes on,” he said.
Some Republicans suggested emotions were too raw to begin the discussion.
“I think it’s too early for that,” Senator Pat Roberts said when asked about potential congressional action.
– ‘Extremely personal’ –
Senator John Thune, a member of Republican leadership, shied away from the issue and called on potential victims to “take precautions” and protect themselves.
“It’s an open society and it’s hard to prevent anything,” Thune told NBC.
Toomey told reporters he would be willing to reintroduce his background check bill. But the Senate has grown more conservative since the measure failed in 2013, and he acknowledged it presently did not have the votes to pass.
Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut on Tuesday blasted his colleagues for their inaction, accusing them of “unintentional complicity” for failing to take steps to address the nation’s gun death toll.
“We ask our Republican colleagues to pick from the smorgasbord of options available to you,” he said at an event with anti-gun groups.
Democrats have proposed various measures, including expanding background checks, prohibiting the sale of so-called bump stocks that can enable a rifle to fire 600 rounds per minute or more, and banning gun sales to terrorism suspects on the government’s ‘no-fly’ list.
Republicans have traditionally pushed back against efforts to restrict Second Amendment rights of Americans to bear arms.
“This is extremely personal to them in trying to figure out what to do,” Senate Republican James Lankford told Fox News Radio, referring to Murphy and other Democrats whose communities have been ravaged by mass shootings.
“They feel an obligation to do something, even if the something wouldn’t correct the problem.”