On Sunday, a gunman, who had received a bad-conduct discharge from the Air Force for allegedly assaulting his spouse and their child, opened fire in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing at least 26 people and injuring 20 more.
The apparently senseless attack on churchgoers marks the 307th mass shooting in the United States in 2017 — and it’s still unlikely there will be any major policy changes to gun laws because of it.
“I think that mental health is your problem here,” President Donald Trump said. “This isn’t a guns situation.”
As Charlie Sykes, the former Wisconsin conservative talk radio host, writes for the New York Times, the GOP has shown that gun law reform is not a policy debate they are willing to have.
“The issue is no longer simply about bump stock, or assault weapons, or specific regulations, or public safety; the debate over guns has become a subset of the larger cultural clash that pits us against them — liberals versus ‘normal’ Americans,” Sykes writes.
He goes on:
There was a time when the Republican Party could discuss possible reforms to our gun laws: Ronald Reagan himself endorsed the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban that passed in 1994. But today, no matter how horrified decent Republicans are by the carnage, they understand that any meaningful response is now impossible. In the face of unconscionable bloodshed, the party is forced again to argue that there is really no public policy response regarding guns, that there is nothing they can do, besides a largely tactical retreat that will allow the cycle of carnage and cowardice to repeat itself.
It’s a cycle Republican legislators are upfront about.
“I am sure there will be some debate on [gun reform], and then we will go down the road and something else will happen and it will get in the background again,” Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX) said after the Las Vegas shooting in October.
Last time there was a mass shooting, Republicans eyed the narrowest possible gun reform. Even that fizzled out.
Williams was right.
Republican legislators’ overwhelming response to the Las Vegas shooting in early October, recorded as the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history, killing 59, was that gun regulation would not have stopped the bloodshed.
Some suggested more people should be armed because of the attack, and one Republican senator went so far as to blame the culture of lawlessness perpetuated by sanctuary cities for the shooting. The only tangible policy discussion that came of it was a rumbling about banning bump stocks — a device that makes semiautomatic weapon function as fully automatic ones.
At the time, top congressional Republicans expressed interest in at least considering the ban, which is more attention than most gun control proposals get from the GOP. There was a bipartisan bill introduced by Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Seth Moulton (D-MA), which had 20 co-sponsors split evenly between parties.
It was the narrowest possible gun control measure that could garner bipartisan support — but the effort was effectively stalled. There were calls for more information and hearings that were never scheduled.
Then the National Rifle Association played its card, advising for the executive branch to act on bump stocks instead of the legislature — a line that was quickly picked up by House Speaker Paul Ryan.
And as has happened with many previous mass shootings, the spike in public support for this kind of legislation in the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting eventually fizzled out in the following months, making an already low-priority issue for Republican members even less pressing.