Donald Trump and several other Republican officials, including South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, denounced new gun control measures while addressing NRA members in Houston on Friday, but on Capitol Hill it’s a different story, where several Republican senators are continuing to huddle with their Democratic counterparts to try to craft something that might be able to get 60 votes.
In his address to the NRA, Trump condemned the “grotesque effort to use the suffering of others” to advance an anti-gun agenda, jabbing at Joe Biden for blaming “the gun lobby” for the “savage and barbaric atrocity” at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas in which 19 children and two teachers were murdered by an 18-year old.
Instead of targeting guns and gun owners, Trump called for a “top to bottom security overhaul at schools across the country” in a variety of ways; single-point entries, security fences, metal detectors, a school resource officer in every school, and yes, arming teachers who volunteer, are vetted, and trained.
The focus in Washington, meanwhile, continues to be on expanding background check mandates to include at least some private sales and “red flag” gun seizure laws. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has given the bipartisan group of senators to come up with something by June 6th, though what happens if they’re unable to reach a deal remains unclear. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin has sounded resistant on the idea of a performative vote on a bill that won’t pass, but gun control groups and several Democratic senators are pushing for a vote to be held regardless with the hopes of putting Republicans on the defensive ahead of the midterms.
While tens of thousands of NRA members are meeting in Houston this weekend, talks among the senators are continuing.
It’s not clear a deal can be reached soon. The Senate will be in recess next week and the momentum could wane, but lawmakers, led by Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, are still pushing ahead on talks in the hope of being able to take some action.
“I know this is a moment where a lot of people feel a sense of hopelessness, I know folks feel this moment of deja vu,” Murphy told a crowd of gun violence survivors and advocates for reform legislation outside the Capitol last week. “But what I also know is that the great social change movements in this country, the ones you read about the history books, they don’t succeed in a year or two years. They often take time.”
That’s true enough, but Murphy also forgets how quickly those “great social change movements” can fall apart once they’ve actually achieved their objectives. The prohibition movement in the United States existed for decades before the 18th Amendment was ratified in 1919, but after a little more than a decade our country’s experiment in banning alcohol in the name of public safety was so clearly an abject failure that the 21st Amendment repealing the provisions of the 18th Amendment were ratified less than 15 years later in 1933.
We’re a long way from a prohibition on guns, even if that’s exactly where guys like Murphy want to end up. But the legislative focus on gun control on Capitol Hill is still taking us further away from the type of policies that could address dangerous and violent individuals, instead of any particular tool they might use to aid them in their heinous acts. A gun-centric “solution” won’t touch the real problem, but Congress has a long and storied history of “doing something” instead of doing something that works.