WASHINGTON – Democrats on Sunday pleaded with President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans to tighten gun restrictions in the wake of a mass shooting in Texas that pushed the number of people killed in such incidents to more than 50 in August alone.
Trump dismissed tougher background checks – “they would not have stopped any of it” – and suggested that Saturday’s shooting, which left seven dead and 19 wounded, had done little to change his calculus on gun control as talks continue between administration officials and some in Congress.
“This really hasn’t changed anything,” Trump told reporters outside the White House as he returned from Camp David.
“We’re doing a package, and we’ll see what it all – how it comes about. . . . A lot of people are talking about it, and that’s irrespective of what happened yesterday in Texas.”
Mass shootings last month in El Paso, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; and Odessa, Texas, have prompted fresh calls from congressional Democrats and the 2020 presidential candidates for stricter regulations on firearms to stem the violence. But in a reflection of the political reality, Trump has been reluctant to endorse any sweeping steps, such as stronger background checks, as privately the National Rifle Association has warned him privately that it would not be popular with his supporters.
Congressional Republicans, especially those on the ballot next year, also have expressed reservations about new legislation.
In Texas, new guns laws took effect Sunday, hours after the shooting, that loosened restrictions on guns in schools, foster homes and places of worship. The Republican-led state legislature passed the measures earlier this year and Republican Gov. Gregg Abbott signed the NRA-backed legislation into law in June.
At a news conference Sunday, Abbott delivered a forceful appeal for change – although he made no mention of his role in greenlighting the newly loosened gun laws less than three months ago.
“I am heartbroken by the crying of the people of the state of Texas,” he said. “I’m tired of the dying of the people of the state of Texas. . . . The status quo in Texas is unacceptable, and action is needed.”
He called for lawmakers to pursue solutions that “keep guns out of the hands of criminals” while protecting Second Amendment rights.
Saturday’s mass shooting as a gunman drove through roads in Odessa and Midland was the second of last month in Texas. On Aug. 3, a gunman opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso, killing 22 and injuring 24. Hours later, in Dayton, a gunman killed nine and wounded 27 in an entertainment district. Other killings nationwide have pushed the number for the month to a sobering 53, according to figures from the website Mass Shooting Tracker.
Julián Castro, a Democratic candidate for president, blasted Republicans for inaction and “happy talk” on the issue.
“The biggest lies that the president has told include that he would do something about universal background checks,” Castro, who is the former mayor of San Antonio and was housing secretary in the Obama administration, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
He pointed to the public reaction following last month’s mass shooting in Dayton when attendees at a vigil for the victims drowned out Republican Gov. Mike DeWine with calls of, “Do something! Do something!”
“More and more people here in Texas and across the country want Congress and their politicians to do something,” Castro said.
Another presidential hopeful, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said during a campaign stop in Iowa that she held little hope of presidential action.
“When a toddler shot with blood all over her in a car doesn’t change the discussion, I don’t think he’s going to listen,” Klobuchar said, referring to 17-month-old Anderson Davis, who was hit by shrapnel in her chest. The child is in stable condition, according to Hailey Wilkerson, a friend of the family.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., renewed her call for the Senate to take up gun control legislation that was passed by the House months ago in February, including an expansion of background checks on firearm sales.
“Enough is enough,” she said in a statement Saturday night. “The Republican Senate must end its obstruction and finally pass the common-sense, bipartisan, House-passed gun violence prevention legislation that the country is demanding.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has expressed an openness to some kind of gun safety legislation in the wake of back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton earlier this month, but has not committed to anything specific and insists any legislation must have strong support from Trump.
A McConnell spokesman declined to comment Sunday, pointing to the statements the Kentucky Republican made on the issue last month.
On CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning, former congressman Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, who is running for president, used a profanity when describing the epidemic of gun violence facing the country and noted that “we’re averaging about 300 mass shootings a year.”
“You don’t need an AR-15, an AK-47. That is a weapon of war designed to kill people as efficiently, as effectively, in as great a number as possible,” he said, calling for the government to initiate a buyback program of assault weapons.
Trump touched on the issue of gun legislation in his exchange with reporters outside the White House, as well as at the outset of a briefing on Hurricane Dorian at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where he decried the “wicked” attack in Odessa.
“My administration is committed to working with Congress to stop the menace of mass attacks,” he said, adding that “our goal must be to identify severely disturbed individuals and disrupt their plans before they strike.”
But his attention appeared elsewhere much of the day as he sent a string of tweets on a range of other topics.
He retweeted warnings from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Hurricane Center about Hurricane Dorian, which is currently surging over the northwestern Bahamas and moving toward the southeastern United States.
He shared quotes from Republicans praising his trade war with China and slamming one of his biggest critics, former FBI director James Comey.
And he took aim at Debra Messing after the actress called for Trump’s 2020 campaign and the Republican National Committee to publicly release the names of donors who are set to attend a Beverly Hills fundraiser for Trump’s re-election effort later this month.
Trump has repeatedly embraced tighter gun restrictions in the aftermath of mass shootings, only to abruptly reverse course in the face of warnings from the NRA.
As they have done after previous mass shootings, several Republicans who made appearances on the Sunday morning news shows pushed back against suggestions that Congress should take action on gun legislation.
“I don’t think that we should step in with false palliatives like red-flag laws,” Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., said on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures” when asked about the Odessa shooting. Red-flag laws allow for judges to order the removal of guns from individuals who are deemed to pose a threat to themselves or others.
Biggs blamed heated rhetoric and “deteriorating institutions” that “in some way stoke these fires,” and argued that further bolstering religious institutions would help combat some of the alienation that drives such attacks.
Even the Republicans who have pushed for some action on the issue sounded pessimistic on Sunday when asked about the prospects for legislative progress.
Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., who co-authored a bill in 2013 that would expand background checks for gun purchases, said he has had “an ongoing conversation” with Trump about the issue.
In an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” Toomey maintained that he and other background-check proponents “are going to take a very serious run at it” but cautioned, “I can’t guarantee an outcome. I’m not sure where this all ends.”
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who penned a Washington Post op-ed last month voicing support for red-flag laws, reiterated his call for Congress to pass such a measure. He pointed to the bill he signed into law last year as Florida governor in the wake of the Parkland shooting, in which a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“I want to do things that I think work,” Scott said. “I think the red-flag laws work. I think, in a school situation, we have put in mental health counselors and law enforcement.”
He declined to answer directly, however, when asked whether he supports universal background checks – even as a Quinnipiac University poll released late last week shows that 93 percent of Americans support such a move.
“Ninety-three percent of American voters support universal background checks,” CNN’s Dana Bash told Scott. “Ninety-three percent of Americans don’t support anything. I mean, that’s a huge number. Do you?”
Scott responded by telling Bash that there are “lots of proposals” and that he doesn’t “want to take guns away from law-abiding Americans.”
He also balked at the idea of an assault weapons ban, prompting Bash to ask him whether he supports Americans possessing “even weapons of war.”
“Well, everybody has their definition of things,” he replied.