(CNN) – Victims were shot at a high school graduation in South Carolina and Texas. Mourners were met outside a church in Kentucky. Several gunmen fired bullets at a crowd in Philadelphia. Gunfire in Chattanooga, Tennessee rang the bell at a nightclub.
Only America is going about its normal business among the dead this weekend daily shadow of gun violenceas a staggering 10 mass shootings since Friday deepened the trauma of recent massacres at a Buffalo grocery store, a Texas elementary school and a mass shooting at a medical center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The horrifying new trail of death and injury, broken families, grief and fear raised the stakes for the Senate’s recent effort to finally do something to stem the shootings and massacres and the cost of yet another policy failure.
The effort, led by Democratic Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, is reaching a critical juncture this week. It will not be enough to end violence in a nation awash with guns. But if even a single massacre is averted through incremental action and a few lives saved, it could mean an important political victory and a sign that Washington can actually do something to mitigate a deadly threat.
Murphy to CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday that after years of campaigning to tighten firearms laws after the 2012 elementary school massacre in his state that left reforms in Congress stalled, he has never been more confident of accomplishing something despite daunting obstacles to success.
“I’ve never been involved in negotiations as serious as this one. There are more Republicans around the table talking about changing our gun laws and investing in mental health than at any time since Sandy Hook,” Murphy told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “I was also part of many failed negotiations in the past, so I see our chances soberly.”
Murphy said that the most likely areas for progress contained “Red Flag” laws which can be used to confiscate guns from those deemed dangerous, or a tightening of background check rules in addition to more mental health resources.
A fierce political debate
There is no realistic chance that President Joe Biden’s appeal in a moving televised address last Thursday for a ban on offensive weapons used in many recent massacres will be successful.
And even if Cornyn and Murphy can strike a deal, there will still be a moment of gut control for Republican senators. At least 10 of them are needed to vote with Democrats to overcome the filibuster requirement for a super majority with the most votes in the chamber. And supporting any restriction risks being branded a traitor by the most active Republican voters who decide primary elections and oppose any form of new restrictions.
GOP leaders like ex-President Donald Trump now portray any tinkering on the fringes of gun laws as the start of an inevitable slippery slope towards completing the Second Amendment, an overstatement and mischaracterization that has often been doomed in the past.
Still, there are signs that momentum is building towards stricter gun restrictions in the country, polls show majority support for stricter background checks and assault weapon bans. In one case, a group of 250 people identifying themselves as conservatives and gun owners placed an ad in the Dallas Morning News urging Cornyn to work to improve gun control.
“We elect Republican senators. We believe in the Second Amendment. Like many others, we are struggling to find good answers to our current problem of gun violence in America,” the group wrote in an open letter.
But the structural barriers to reform remain strong. While many Americans see their right to bear arms as an important element of self-defense and national identity, polls show that even many Republicans believe some kind of sensible additional regulation is needed. But an activist minority in the GOP and the power of the gun lobby have thwarted nearly all reform efforts in response to mass killings in recent years.
So the question before the Senate this week isn’t just whether the nation’s political alienation allows for something to be done to make the country a little safer. It is about whether, in a bitterly divided Washington, there is even a real debate about the real causes of the deaths of so many innocent people.
“Enough, enough,” Biden said Thursday shortly after his second trip in a few weeks to comfort those left behind after one of America’s mass murders. His words found echoes Sunday in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the city’s mayor spent his second straight weekend holding a press conference following a mass killing.
“Once again, we got people solving their gun issues,” said Mayor Tim Kelly, who is not officially affiliated with either party and says he is a hunter and advocates responsible gun ownership but wants expanded background checks and limits on guns High capacity magazines.
He continued, “I’m tired of standing in front of you and talking about guns and dead bodies.”
A deadly trail of weekend shootings
By early Sunday evening, the numbers describing a weekend of violence had reached astounding levels, even given the regular daily number of gun-related killings and incidents.
Since Friday alone, there have been 10 mass shootings in the country, killing at least 12 people and injuring many more. Not to mention all the other minor shootouts that took place as part of the drumbeat of death. At times over the weekend, news of further shootings came at a speed that was hard to believe.
Of course, most Americans went about their business without encountering violence. But the indiscriminate shootings in schools, doctor’s offices, supermarkets, bars and parties show how entrenched the threat of gun violence is in everyday life. No one killed in these atrocities had reason to believe that their lives would end in relatively mundane places.
- Three people were killed and 11 were wounded in Philadelphia Saturday night. Police said several gunmen fired into a crowd on South Street’s busy nightlife. “Once again we see lives senselessly lost and injured in yet another horrific, brazen and despicable act of gun violence,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney.
- In the Tennessee incident, two people died from gunshot wounds and 14 were injured in a shootout in Chattanooga. A third person died after being hit by a vehicle during the incident, police said.
- Across the country, in Mesa, Arizona, two people were killed and two injured in a bar shooting.
- A 14-year-old girl died and at least eight people were injured in a downtown shooting in Phoenix, Arizona, early Saturday morning.
- Another mass shooting in Summerton, South Carolina, injured eight people and killed one. Police told CNN affiliate WIS that two cars pulled into a yard where a high school graduation ceremony was being held. The victims were between 13 and 36 years old.
- At another high school graduation in Socorro, Texas, five people were injured when someone started shooting into a crowd.
- Three people were injured and one killed in an incident in Omaha, Nebraska.
- In Chesterfield, Virginia: One person was killed and five others injured
- And in Macon, Georgia, three people were injured and one killed when gunfire rang out in a Bibb County neighborhood.
- In several other incidents not classified as mass shootings over the past few days, two people attending a funeral were shot dead outside a church in Lexington, Kentucky, police said. Both were injured. And on Friday, a former Wisconsin judge was shot dead in what police called a targeted attack.
A huge political split
Murphy told CNN in his State of the Union interview that the recent outbreak of violence across the country has taken fear of gun violence to levels he had not seen before.
“When I was in Connecticut last week, I never saw the look on the parents’ faces like I did. There’s a deep, deep fear for our children right now,” he told Tapper. Murphy also said that “there is also a fear that the government is so fundamentally broken that it cannot put politics aside to ensure what matters most to adults in this country, the physical safety of their children.”
“And because of that, I think the odds of success are better than ever,” the Connecticut Democrat said. “But I think the consequences of failure for our entire democracy are more significant than ever.”
However, the political position of many Republicans – since the party expects major victories in the midterm elections in November – also opposes the prospects of success.
Rep. Steve Scalise, the Republican House minority whip, is themselves victims of gun violence after being seriously injured in a shooting at a congressional baseball practice in 2017. However, the Louisiana lawmaker accused Democrats of using the recent mass shootings in Texas as a smokescreen to violate gun rights, implying that such shootings almost always had a cause that couldn’t be simply blamed on guns.
“It’s immediately about Democrats wanting to take away guns,” Scalise said on Fox News Sunday.
“Let’s look for the root of the problem. How can we better connect the dots and stop something before it happens? Just like we did after 9/11, which has worked really well when it comes to stopping terrorist attacks,” Scalise said. When asked why there were far more gun homicides in the US than in other developed nations, where guns are far less available, he blamed what he saw as “insane” calls by Liberal Democrats to defund the police.
The difference between Murphy and Scalise on this issue underscores the reasons why hopes for progress in Washington this week are tempered by the experience of the deep divide that exists in the US over gun reform. And it raises questions about whether Washington will ever be able to protect Americans.
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