- On the heels of a school shooting in Texas, it’s unclear if Congress will do anything to prevent future massacres.
- Insider and other reporters asked 22 Republican senators about what, if anything, could be done.
- While some were open to strengthening red flag laws and improving school security, many offered no ideas.
In the wake of yet another mass shooting — this time at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, where at least 19 children and 2 adults were killed on Tuesday — Americans are left wondering whether any legislative action will be taken to address the scourge of mass shootings.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer indicated on Wednesday that rather than take a symbolic vote on gun safety legislation, he would allow space for bipartisan negotiations to take place. He has taken steps to tee up votes on two House-passed background checks bills that likely won’t get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate. But those votes might not occur until after the holiday weekend.
“I know this is a slim prospect. Very slim. All too slim. We’ve been burnt so many times before,” said Schumer in a floor speech. “They can work with us to craft legislation that would prevent needless loss of life. It is their choice.”
Insider spent Wednesday morning alongside other reporters at the Capitol asking Republican senators — 22 in total — whether they believed anything could be done legislatively to prevent mass shootings like the one that occurred in Uvalde. While some expressed support for encouraging the implementation of so-called “red flag” laws, which allow police to take away a potentially dangerous person’s weapons, and strengthening the country’s background checks system, others had little to offer in the way of solutions.
“I don’t think we’re going to get anything done without offering prayers,” said Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, before suggesting to Insider that he doesn’t believe any legislation could’ve prevented the shooting.
“The question is: what caused this evil in the first place?,” he said. “If someone wants to violate a law, they’re going to violate a law.”
Several other Republicans refused to comment on the matter at all, including Sens. Tim Scott of South Carolina, Mike Lee of Utah, Jim Risch of Idaho, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Deb Fischer of Nebraska.
“I’m not going to address that,” Fischer told Insider.
But others have sounded a more hopeful note, and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut — who has made gun violence legislation one of the central causes of his career — said he has begun talking to his GOP colleagues about bipartisan solutions, despite acknowledging the possibility that talks go nowhere.
Any gun legislation would need to receive 60 votes due to the Senate’s filibuster rules. Earlier this year, Democrats refused to nix the procedural hurdle over voting rights and have not revisited the issue since. Sen. Joe Manchin, a staunch defender of the filibuster, made clear on Tuesday night that his support for the filibuster remains unchanged — meaning that the filibuster will remain as well.
“I understand the prospects for getting 60 votes are slim — they are always slim,” Murphy told reporters, while adding just a small bit of optimism. “There is a non-zero chance that we could get a compromise.”
“There may be some breakthroughs here,” GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told Insider.
A possible opening on red flag laws
As initial news reports became grimmer by the hour on Tuesday night, Murphy took to the Senate floor to beg his colleagues to do something.
“Find a path forward here,” said Murphy. “Work with us to find a way to pass laws that make this less likely.”
—CSPAN (@cspan) May 24, 2022
On Wednesday, a handful of Senate Republicans expressed an openness to having a discussion about potential legislation.
Sen. Susan Collins, a more moderate Republican whose vote Democrats would need to pass anything, said that Murphy called her on Wednesday to talk about red flag laws.
“That is the kind of law that could have made a difference, since according to press reports, if they are correct, he suffered from mental illness,” Collins said of the Uvalde shooter.
Other senators are dusting off old legislation. Sen Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally who often tries to broker bipartisan deals, touted previous legislation that he worked on with Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, telling Insider that “maybe that’s something we could do.”
Sen. Rick Scott, who as governor in 2018 signed a red flag law into law after one of the deadliest school shootings in American history in Parkland, Florida, said that he would be open to a similar law at the federal level. He emphasized that traditionally states have led the discussion, not Congress.
Sen. Mitt Romney echoed Scott’s focus on state-level efforts, telling reporters it would “be wise” for other states to follow suit. Romney said that discussions in Congress are “very preliminary.”
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have red flag laws that give authorities the power to temporarily confiscate a person’s firearm if they are a threat to themselves or others. Gun rights activists and some Republicans have expressed opposition to such laws on the basis that they deprive an individual of their gun rights. Some also question whether there is enough due process before local police can take possession of a firearm.
It is clear even this early that some Republicans do not support such an effort.
Sen. Josh Hawley, who is rumored to harbor presidential ambitions, sounded skeptical that a nationwide red flag law was the right way to move forward. The Missouri Republican said the laws “mean a lot of things to a lot of different people” and said that they are best handled by states. “A federal law? I don’t know about that,” he told reporters.
And as the elevator door was closing to whisk him away for votes, Sen. John Barrasso, a member of GOP leadership, gave a blunt reply when asked if he or his colleagues would support such a bill.
“Not this Republican,” he said.
‘Good has to overcome evil’
Meanwhile, a sizable contingent of Republican senators had little to offer in the way of solutions to prevent mass shootings when asked by Insider and other reporters.
“I’m still trying to gather information on this particular one,” Sen. Todd Young of Indiana told Insider when asked if anything could be done at the federal level. “We need to do what we can to ensure that when we send our kids off to school, they’re in a safe and welcoming environment.”
But when pressed about whether he had specific ideas, Young stared at the floor as he boarded an elevator up to the Senate chamber.
“Not that we’ve come up with,” Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina told Insider when asked the same question. “I’m open to any discussions that anybody wants to have.”
“If you want a solution, you have to know the circumstances, and law enforcement has not provided any of that to us yet,” Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa told Insider.
“We will see what comes of the discussions,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia told reporters.
Others echoed Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who focused on the fact that the mass shooting in Uvalde took place in a school and has called for stationing “armed law enforcement” on school campuses.
“I’m going to focus on school security, which I know works,” Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana, a former school board member, told reporters. “We had it in our own school system when I was on that board.”
“If a teacher wants to carry a firearm and has the, you know, background to do that, I certainly think that’s something that they should be permitted to do,” Hawley told reporters.
On Wednesday, Scott of Florida and Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin sought to pass a bill via unanimous consent that would’ve created a federal clearinghouse for best practices for school safety. Schumer blocked it, contending that “hardening schools would’ve done nothing to prevent this shooting.”
And yet another cohort of senators indicated they simply don’t believe that legislation will solve the issue of mass shootings, or made vague calls for action on other, non-gun-related issues.
“We need to have some kind of mental health program for people in this country. It starts there,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama told reporters. “Good has to overcome evil.”
“There is not a piece of legislation that is going to solve that,” Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma told reporters. “Saying, ‘I’m going to do something’ isn’t sufficient. It isn’t sufficient for parents, for everybody in the conversation,
“We have serious cultural issues and we’ve got serious issues, obviously, with a child, 18-years-old now,” said Lankford, referring to the shooter. “There’s zero chance that legislation is going to fix that.”