President Biden responded to this week's school shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, which left three 9-year-olds and three adults dead, by saying he had done everything in his power to tackle gun violence. "I have gone the full extent of my executive authority to do, on my own, anything about guns," Biden said. Biden has taken six executive actions, including funding community-based violence interventions, pushing accountability for gun makers, and stepping up use of "red flag" laws. Now, Biden said, it's up to Congress to act, and a good place to start is banning the kind of semi-automatic assault-style guns that are the weapons of choice for killers in the nation's worst mass shootings, including the one in Tennessee. "The last time we passed an assault weapons ban, violent shootings went down," Biden said.
Mourners gathered for a candlelight vigil to honor the victims: Evelyn Dieckhaus, 9; Hallie Scruggs, 9; William Kinney, 9; Cynthia Peak, 61; Katherine Koonce, 60; and Mike Hill, 61. But debate instantly turned nasty in Washington. In the Capitol, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), told reporters in the hall outside the House chamber that Republicans are too "gutless" to "do anything to save the lives of our children." Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) was walking by, and when he realized Bowman was talking about gun violence, he said: "You know, there's never been a school shooting in a school that allows teachers to carry." Massie said. Republicans, in Washington and Tennessee, are willing to talk about addressing school shootings by putting more armed officers and teachers in the buildings, but not an assault weapon ban. Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) said there is really nothing lawmakers can do to stop gun violence. "We're not gonna fix it," Burchett said. "Criminals are going to be criminals."
Is everyone in Washington giving up?
How sad that the only thing Biden and congressional Republicans seem to agree on is there's "nothing left for them to do to counter the continuing toll of gun violence across the country," said Annie Karni in The New York Times. Biden's "stark admission" was a "statement of fact," while the Republicans' shoulder shrugging "reflected an unwillingness, rather than an inability, to act." So it appears nothing will be done. Last year, Congress passed a "bipartisan compromise" enhancing background checks by giving authorities "time to examine the juvenile and mental health records of any prospective gun buyer under the age of 21," and keeping guns away from domestic abusers of people they're dating. But the moment of compromise is over.
"No single action will stop mass shootings, much less gun violence more generally," said The Washington Post in an editorial. But the "evidence of the need for a ban on assault rifles" is overwhelming. As is the evidence "of the need for a ban on high-capacity magazines." Restricting how many rounds "a gun can fire before a shooter has to reload are more difficult to skirt than flat-out assault rifle bans," because manufacturers can just "make cosmetic changes that will reclassify their products." So if banning assault rifles, like the AR-15s used in 10 of the nation's 17 deadliest mass shootings, is too much to ask, start by addressing the ammo clips that no law-abiding civilian really needs.
How about enforcing the laws we have?
The Nashville shooter, identified as 28-year-old Audrey Hale, reportedly bought "seven guns from five stores before the mass shooting at a Christian school," said Jim Geraghty in National Review, and newspapers are stating flatly that the purchases were legal. But there is reason to question that. "Nashville police said the shooter had been in a 'doctor's care for an emotional disorder,'" and that Hale's parents thought their child should not own a gun because of that. "Both federal and Tennessee state law ban the sale of firearms to anyone who has been adjudicated to be a threat to themselves or others." Maybe, instead of debating new laws, we should be asking whether applying the existing ones in this case could have prevented this massacre.
"A majority of Americans support stronger rules on the sale of guns and feel increasingly dissatisfied with the nation's failure to more strictly regulate firearms," said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. "But too many state and federal lawmakers, mostly Republican, won't buck the gun lobby and its extreme ideology that even common-sense restrictions amount to government oppression." So instead of action, we get to keep living with "another kind of oppression — the crushing fear that they might be the next victim or survivor of gun violence."
It "shouldn't be wrong to talk about" what new laws could reduce the violence, said The (Nashville) Tennessean in an editorial, and what old ones — like the permitless carry law of 2021 that "meant even law-abiding citizens were no longer exposed to valuable training about the law" — aren't helping. "We may not have the total answer right now, but we need our lawmakers to face the issue, debate solutions and take meaningful action for the sake of the public's safety."