News by VICE

Congress offers "thoughts and prayers" and not much else

by Alex Thompson
Oct 2 2017, 3:49pm

The effects of Sunday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas that left at least 59 dead and 527 injured — one of the deadliest in American history — could be felt thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C., where business was anything but usual Monday morning.

Flags at the White House and the Capitol Building were lowered to half-staff.

Press conferences were canceled.

Nevada representatives rushed aboard planes to get back to their home state.

The president declared the shooting an “act of evil” and announced he will visit Las Vegas in person on Wednesday.

Dozens of politicians turned to prayer, according to their press releases.

But a debate over gun control legislation? There, at least, things were business as usual.

Authorities have since confirmed the shooter, 64-year-old Stephen Craig Paddock, opened fire on an outdoor country music festival crowd of more than 22,000 people from the window of his 32nd-floor hotel room, where police found 10 guns and Paddock’s dead body. The type of guns and how Paddock purchased them were not yet known as of Monday afternoon.

Even when those details come out, however, Republicans in control of Congress are unlikely to consider any gun control legislation aimed at mitigating the carnage of mass shootings. As expected, neither Trump nor the Republican leaders in Congress mentioned gun control legislation in their statements Monday.

“There’s a time and place for a political debate, but now is time to unite as a country,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a press briefing.

In an ironic twist, Congress was actually on the verge of passing a law that would loosen gun laws when news of the shooting broke Sunday night. The bill — the Sportsmen Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act known as the SHARE Act — is the National Rifle Association’s chief legislative priority and has been gaining steam in the House. If passed, it would revise regulations to make it easier to sell gun-silencers; limit the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives from classifying certain ammunition as “armor piercing”; and loosen rules for hunting on public lands. The president’s son Donald Trump Jr., a hunter, is a strong supporter of the legislation.

The bill passed through committee on a party-line vote on Sept. 13 and was expected to be voted on by the House as soon as this week. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had previously predicted the legislation would pass.

The legislation would then face an uphill battle in the Senate, where it would need 60 votes to pass. But with several Democrats up for reelection in gun-friendly states like West Virginia, Montana, Indiana, and Missouri, it’s possible the GOP could get it through.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who has been pushing for gun control since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, issued a statement calling the government’s response, or lack thereof, “positively infuriating,” and accused his colleagues of being “so afraid of the gun industry that they pretend there aren’t public policy responses to this epidemic.”

While many Democrats, including Murphy, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, called on Monday for gun control measures, many did not and instead echoed their Republican colleagues’ “thoughts and prayers.”

For example, Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen of Nevada, who represents part of Las Vegas, declined to address gun control legislation in her statement, which said she was “heartbroken” and that her “thoughts and prayers are with the victims.” Rosen is the Democratic Party’s leading candidate to challenge Sen. Dean Heller in 2018.

Democrats have traditionally tread lightly on gun control since passing the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994 as part of a larger crime bill. Months after it was passed, Democrats lost both chambers of Congress in the midterm elections, and many party officials believe the gun control legislation played a significant role. Bill Clinton himself supported the theory, writing in his 2004 memoir that he likely “pushed the Congress, the country, and the administration too hard,” with the weapons ban.

The resistance to gun control legislation even extends to victims of gun violence. House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who nearly died in June after a politically-motivated shooter opened fire on the congressional Republicans’ baseball practice, issued a statement Monday calling for “solidarity” but made no mention of potential legislative solutions.

Asked if the congressman’s opinions on gun control legislation had been affected by his experience this past summer, Scalise’s office did not answer multiple requests for comment.

But his website provides a clue: It boasts of an “A+ rating” from the NRA.