In a nation where mourning the most recent mass shooting has become routine, the weekend’s two massacres, in El Paso and Dayton, brought another opportunity for reckoning.
This time, the shootings come after a year of increased momentum for the gun-control movement and internal fracturing for the National Rifle Association. This time, there is a comprehensive package of bills proposed in Congress aimed at preventing gun violence, including a background-check bill and other legislation already passed by the House and waiting for action in the Senate.
But this time, there is also a recognition that not one mass shooting, from Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn. in 2012 to Dayton, Ohio, on Sunday, has created a true political tipping point. President Donald Trump did not endorse sweeping gun-control legislation or mention the background-check bill in a televised statement from the White House condemning the killings on Monday, and there is little, if anything, to indicate that the dynamics in Washington that have prevented any legislative response to mass shootings will change.
In the Philadelphia region, some saw no reason for optimism.
“If you couldn’t act on legislation when 20 first-graders were killed, if you couldn’t act when high school students … were killed, if you couldn’t act when church members praising their God were killed — if you couldn’t act then, … I don’t know how we’re going to act now,” said Camille Parkinson, 18, a recent graduate of Henderson High School in West Chester and a gun-control activist.
Trump endorsed a single piece of legislation, the red flag law, which seeks to improve reporting of people whose families believe they may be a danger, and suggested that the death penalty be made mandatory for perpetrators of mass shootings. He had also suggested in a morning tweet that Congress consider background-check legislation along with an immigration package.
With Congress out of session until after Labor Day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) called for the Senate to come back into session “immediately” to pass the universal background-check bill already approved by the House. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) “refuses to act on this bipartisan legislation,” they said in a joint statement.
McConnell tweeted Sunday expressing prayers for the victims. “Two horrifying acts of violence in less than 24 hours. We stand with law enforcement as they continue working to keep Americans safe and bring justice,” he said.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) said he had spoken to both Trump and McConnell on Monday. He said he didn’t think the Senate would accomplish anything if it were brought back this week, saying senators should take time to build support for legislation. He said Congress should pass the background-check bill he proposed with Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) after the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, but that never won widespread support. He also endorsed calls for a national red flag law.
“This isn’t going to happen tomorrow and if we force a vote tomorrow, then I think the vote probably fails and we may actually set back this whole effort," Toomey told reporters Monday.
The House has passed four pieces of gun-control legislation awaiting Senate action.
One would establish universal background checks, making checks required for all firearm purchases, including those transacted through private parties. Another would prohibit any firearms from being transferred to a buyer before the required background check had been completed, even if the background check took extra time.
A third provides funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence. The last reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act, which would restrict people with a misdemeanor conviction of domestic abuse or stalking from buying guns and provide for programs and funding to prevent domestic and dating violence.
“The House has acted. Why doesn’t the majority in the Senate feel the same urgency?” tweeted Rep. Madeleine Dean (D., Pa.) on Saturday.
In the last year and a half, the political momentum of the gun-control movement has accelerated, largely propelled by outrage after the 2018 shooting that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
“Parkland actually was able to put gun violence squarely in the face of everybody,” said Serita Lewis, a Philadelphia anti-gun-violence activist who has worked with local youth on the issue. “Has anything really happened in the past year and a half that really is making change? No. We’re seeing even more shootings happening now.”
Parkinson, the Chester County teen who was at her high school graduation party when news of the El Paso, Texas, shooting broke, said she is “very ready” to vote in her first presidential election, in 2020, listing background checks and an assault-weapons ban as her top gun-control priorities.
“I’m still just as fearful as when Parkland happened — as when Sandy Hook happened and I was in middle school — and now I’m graduating high school and I feel like the fear just keeps growing and growing and growing,” said Parkinson, who is leaving for college in a few weeks.