Why US gun reform continues to fail in the face of untold tragedy

It’s recess time for the United States Senate. A 10-day break is scheduled for members who unironically refer to their workplace as the world’s greatest legislative body.

Unless there’s a schedule change, they’ll be heading home for precinct meetings and Memorial Day barbecues and other activities that won’t include passing a national gun law.

Which would represent the status quo for a group of individuals more inclined to flip burgers than enact meaningful gun reform.

There was a time when so many children executed in a classroom in Texas could have spurred action. The guns have car accidents overtaken as the cause of death.

Rather, the tragedy risks demonstrating how the country is stuck in a bloody stalemate when it comes to updating national gun laws.

The debate had just begun a day after Tuesday’s mass shooting and the man who ostensibly controls the Senate all but conceded defeat.

Chuck Schumer has declared the truism that he needs Republican votes. He said he would try bipartisan talks. In the next breath, he admitted he was skeptical of anything happening.

“I know that’s a slim prospect. Very slim. Too slim,” Schumer, the leader of the Democratic Senate, said Wednesday.

“We’ve been burned so many times before.”

Lawmakers are not giving up. A small group has begun cross-party talks to assess whether there are enough votes to pass limited reforms that have broad public support, such as a red flag law to confiscate guns from someone deemed dangerous, as it exists in some states.

But these efforts come up against powerful forces: toxic partisanship, institutional inertia and a history of failures.

Big cultural change needed to address gun violence in US, not just laws: David Frum

“The abundance of guns is so extreme…the problem is so vast that it’s hard at this stage to imagine what small intervention could make a difference – only a big cultural shift,” says David Frum of The Atlantic on the prospect of meaningful change. action against gun violence in the United States

Gun Culture and the Courts

The United States has approximately eight times more deaths by firearm per capita than Canada, and Canada’s rate is higher than that of most rich countries.

Among the tens of thousands of people killed each year by firearms in the United States, there is a much smaller subset that causes horror: school shootings, which have killed between 15 and 182 people each year over a period of two decades.

Yet there is more than one reason why gun control is so inaccessible.

The culture of weapons is part of it: the country has more weapons than inhabitants and its stock of approximately 400 million firearms is more than the following 25 countries combined.

This is compounded by a bitterly polarized policy where guns are a symbol of identity: Republicans and rural are more than twice as likely to own guns as city dwellers and Democrats.

There is also the judicial system where conservative judges hold an increasingly broad reading of 1791 Second Amendment to the Constitution.

In fact, the United States may soon have less gun control, not more, thanks to the Supreme Court.

While the High Court’s early ruling on abortion has received a lot of attention, there is also a major gun ruling that the High Court will announce any day now, with a challenge for New York State restrictions for carrying concealed handguns.

Finally, there is institutional paralysis.

The US Senate: where the bills go to die

And if institutional necrosis had a home, it would be the US Senate, a hospice for legislation where so many bills crawl to die a slow, unheralded death.

This is the example par excellence of a political system that relies on cooperation between parties and suffers from stagnation in its absence.

If you lack bipartisan support, here’s what it takes to pass a highly politicized bill: triple control of the White House, House of Representatives and 60% of seats in the Senate.

It almost never happens. The current Senate split is 50-50, meaning Democrats voting alone can only pass certain budget bills.

WATCH | GOP pollster says Americans are fed up with gun violence:

‘Americans are tired of gun violence’: longtime pollster

“I have to believe this time it will be different. I have to believe this time something is going to happen in the US Senate,” longtime pollster Frank Luntz said after the Texas elementary school shooting. “Americans are tired of gun violence.”

“The conclusion is the same,” Democratic Senator Cory Booker said Wednesday.

“I don’t see any of my fellow Republicans coming forward right now and saying, ‘Here’s a plan to stop the carnage. So it’s just normal now, which is ridiculous.”

The effect of this standoff extends beyond firearms. Climate the legislation died in the Senate. Paid parental leave is popular, but stuck there. A public Health care option? Same. A national Abortion right? Same. Higher taxes on the rich? Savagely popularbut in limbo.

This chamber was the scene of gun reform supporters’ most heartbreaking defeat, after the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Connecticut: background check legislation fell within a few votes of the fence 60%.

That was nine years ago and it’s been the status quo ever since.

Manchin a key player

In a historical coincidence, a co-author of that 2013 gun bill, Democrat Joe Manchin, happens to be a central player in Senate stasis today.

He insisted he would block any attempt to relax the rules to allow simple majority voting and that froze the Democrats’ agenda. Including his own gun bill.

This is how you end up with the current scenario, where the Democrats supposedly control all of Washington but admit they can do nothing.

It’s after us gun deaths have increased during the pandemic to more than 45,000 in one year; just over half were suicides and less than half were homicides.

Alexandria Aniyah Rubio, one of the victims of the Robb Elementary School mass shooting in Uvalde, is seen in this photo obtained from social media. (Alexandria Aniyah Rubio’s family/Reuters)

The homicide rate leaps 35% from 2019 and after a long lull is approaching the historic highs of the early 1990s.

Gun violence is often ridiculed in some parts of the country as a big-city problem, leaving parts of red America uninterested in reform.

What is less recognized is how widespread gun violence is: red states actually have the highest rate of gun possession and death.

Most academic research makes a clear link: more weapons equal more violence. Not all searches agrees, and some have questioned the effectiveness of past efforts to reduce supply with public funds buyback programs.

In this maze of political deadlocks, there has been one recent avenue of action: the state level.

State level: where the action takes place

In 2021, 27 states passed 75 gun safety bills, including enhanced background checks, according to the advocacy group founded by Gabby Gifford, a former congresswoman and shooting survivor; at the same time, 19 states passed 64 laws weakening control, such as portering without a license.

New York’s governor now wants his state to raise the minimum age from 18 to 21 to own AR-15 rifles; these rifles have been used by young men in recent mass shootings, including the latest in Buffalo, NY and Texas.

“This person is not old enough to buy a legal drink,” Governor Kathy Hochul said.

“What happened in Buffalo, what happened… in Texas, three years ago [common denominators]: The weapon was an AR-15. The assailant was a man and the age of the assailant was 18 years old. I don’t want 18-year-olds having guns.”

WATCH | Beto O’Rourke calls out to the Governor of Texas during a press conference on the shootings at the school:

Democrat Beto O’Rourke interrupts Texas governor during news conference on school shootings

Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is challenging Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for governor this year, interrupted Wednesday’s news conference on the fatal elementary school shooting in the state, calling the Republican’s response to the tragedy of “predictable”. O’Rourke was escorted away while members of the crowd shouted at him.

But there are limits to what a state can do and this point was made evident during the racist shooting in Buffalo: while the weapon was purchased legally, the high-capacity ammunition magazine was not not legal in New York and has crossed state lines.

Limits on state power will be further highlighted if the Supreme Court overturns New York’s limits on concealed carry permits.

It’s not that Americans oppose change.

Depending on the poll and the question you ask, gun reform is either slightly unpopularslightly popularor extremely popular if you mean limited reforms such as background checks and red flag laws. So that’s what the Democrats are now trying to do: persuade 10 moderate Republicans in the Senate to pass one of these measures.

Without it, nothing will happen.

‘You do nothing’

But the political spectacle will continue. A concrete example came during a press conference where Texas Governor Greg Abbott appeared on the verge of tears after the shooting in Uvalde.

This is the same governor who once tweeted that he was embarrassed Texans weren’t buying guns anymore.

His electoral challenger, Democrat Beto O’Rourke, heckled him at the press conference, scolding him to his face and telling him, “You’re not doing anything.”

The Republicans on stage escorted O’Rourke and berated him for politicizing a dark press conference.

The mayor of Uvalde shouted at the former congressman: “Sick son of a bitch”.

The day unfolded like any other: with many American parents dropping their children off at school, waving goodbye, news of indescribable horror casting a shadow.

It ended with the US Senate still short of a new gun law. But maybe one day closer to a two-week break.

-With files from the Associated Press