Mass shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead raises pressure on US politicians to take action over the ubiquity of firearms — but also brings the grim expectation of little or no change.
Democrats and Republicans in the US Senate have struggled to agree on legislation to prevent future mass shootings, a day after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at a Texas elementary school.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer urged collaboration on Wednesday but neither he nor Democratic President Joe Biden in a televised speech offered a specific approach.
"My Republican colleagues can work with us now. I know this is a slim prospect, very slim, all too slim," Schumer said in a floor speech. "It's their choice."
The Senate will hold a procedural vote on Thursday to launch a debate on legislation to fight domestic terrorism that passed the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives after a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, earlier this month.
Republicans Susan Collins and Pat Toomey said they had been in contact with Democratic Senator Chris Murphy about possible legislation to deny weapons to people deemed dangerous and to tighten background checks for gun purchasers.
'Kids are dying right now'
David Hogg, a survivor of the 2018 Parkland, Florida, high school shooting and a gun-control activist, urged lawmakers to act.
"I want anything. We gotta save lives now. Kids are dying right now," Hogg said in an interview. "Even if it just saves one life, because it’s an updated background checks bill, or an expansion of extreme risk protection orders, or anything like that."
Murphy, of Connecticut, where a gunman killed 26 children and educators at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, had implored his colleagues in a Senate speech on Tuesday to act.
"The thing that would have the best chance would be the thing that's gotten Republican support before, which is expanding background checks," said Toomey, who told reporters he has been in contact with Murphy.
Collins said the details of the Texas shooting suggested a role for "red flag" legislation that would employ the courts and medical profession to deny firearms to people deemed mentally ill.
Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema said there was some chance of a deal on red flag laws, noting, "There's some shared agreement."
Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat who has stood as a roadblock to some key Biden priorities, told reporters he would not agree to change Senate rules to allow Democrats to pass gun legislation on their own but held out hope for a bipartisan solution.
While the US is by no means the only country to allow civilians to carry firearms, it has the highest rate of civilian ownership of guns, partly owing to powerful pro-gun lobby groups and strong gun culture pic.twitter.com/15HejYNC02— TRT World (@trtworld) May 25, 2022
Hundreds of deaths
Hundreds of people have died in mass shootings at schools, churches, stores and movie theaters over the years but Congress has failed to unite on legislation.
Republicans assert a right to bear arms protected by the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. The political stalemate angers Democrats.
"It's f******g nuts to do nothing about this!" fumed Democratic Senator Mark Kelly, whose wife –– former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords –– suffered a severe brain injury during an assassination attempt in 2011.
Democrats need support from at least 10 Republicans to meet the 60-vote Senate threshold for most legislation.
Schumer has taken initial steps toward a possible vote on legislation to tighten background checks for gun purchasers.
His Republican counterpart, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, condemned the murderous actions of a "deranged" gunman and a "maniac" without addressing prospects for legislation.
US Senator Chris Murphy has delivered an emotional speech to his fellow lawmakers in Congress to address gun violence in the country, following the mass shooting at a school in Texas that left at least 18 kids and three adults dead pic.twitter.com/DWAKhN86iH— TRT World (@trtworld) May 25, 2022
Ties with NRA
Republicans became the target of gun violence themselves in 2017 when a gunman attacked lawmakers and colleagues at a baseball practice just outside Washington. Representative Steve Scalise was wounded in the attack.
Republican Senator Mike Rounds said that banning assault rifles or placing age restrictions on gun purchases would not have prevented the Texas shooting.
"Show us what would stop this from happening," Rounds said.
Schumer and other Democrats accused Republicans of being in the thrall of the gun industry and the National Rifle Association (NRA) –– the most powerful gun lobby in US –– that said the Texas school shooter was a "lone, deranged criminal."
"One political party is owned by the gun industry, period," Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown told Reuters news agency.
"We've got to get a dozen Republicans and they don't show any sign of breaking with the NRA, ever."