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A history of America doing nothing in response to mass shootings

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

After 20 children were murdered at Sandy Hook, we said never again. And then we did absolutely nothing and let another 998 mass shootings happen.

After every national high-profile shooting, there are murmurs that this time, surely, is the event that will make us do something — anything — to stop a future attack like this one. But each time, ideas about how to stop gun violence stall.

As we process news of the worst mass shooting in American history at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, let’s not forget the warnings we had, and did not heed.

  • December 2012, Sandy Hook: The Sandy Hook shooting, which claimed the lives of seven adults and 20 first-graders, prompted the most significant push for gun law reform since the 1990s. A relatively weak background-check bill, supported by the Obama administration, was filibustered to death in the Senate, failing by a six vote threshold in April 2013. A bill to revive the expired federal assault weapons ban also failed, by a much wider margin.
  • May 2014, Isla Vista: Just days before the shooting, in which misogynist Elliot Rodger killed seven people at UC-Santa Barbara, Sen. Ed Markey introduced a bill that would provide $10 million to the Centers for Disease Control to study the causes of and solutions to gun violence. Currently, the CDC is blocked from compiling data on gun violence due to Republican fears that the research would lend support for gun control measures. Markey’s bill went nowhere, even after Rodger’s rampage.
  • June 2015, Charleston: White supremacist Dylann Roof shot up a historically black church, killing nine people. Afterwards, Rep. James Clyburn introduced a bill to reform the background check process, which currently allows firearm dealers to sell guns within three days if they haven't heard anything from the FBI. Clyburn’s bill, once again, went nowhere.
  • October 2015, Roseburg: After nine people died at, yet again, a college campus, President Barak Obama gave a famously angry address to the nation calling for gun law reform. Obama pointed to the UK and Australia — which have restricted gun purchasing and even, in Australia’s case, actually seized guns from their owners — for policy ideas. "It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun," he said. There was no meaningful legislative follow-up to Obama’s proposals.
  • December 2015, San Bernardino: A month after Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik murdered 14 people at a San Bernardino center for people with disabilities, the two senators from Connecticut introduced a new gun reform bill. Their bill would repeal a 2005 law that shielded gun manufacturers and sellers from liability lawsuits after shootings. Obama also proposed legislation to bar people on the no-fly list from buying guns, a proposal that wasn't likely to do much of anything to stop gun violence. Yet even this law, which tapped into broader national fears about terrorism, went nowhere — as, of course, did the more sensible Murphy/Blumenthal bill.

The National Rifle Association, and its allies in Congress, have taken a hard-line position on gun restrictions. They believe that even minor laws designed to make it harder to get firearms, or even to figure out what works to stop gun violence, are unacceptable infringements on individual freedom. They have enough muscle in Congress to make action on gun control impossible.

The rest of us have to live with the consequences.