After a gunman shot and killed seven near Odessa, Texas, on Saturday and injured over a dozen others, including a 17-month-old girl, members of Congress and 2020 presidential candidates issued urgent pleas for renewed efforts to solve the nation’s gun violence epidemic.
The shooting, which claimed the lives of victims aged 15 to 57, came mere weeks after a white supremacist shot and killed 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso and another shooting that same weekend which claimed the lives of nine and injured over two dozen in Dayton, Ohio. The violence, all taking place over the August congressional recess, had initially led President Trump to express support for background checks legislation, though as The Daily Beast reported, that interest quickly waned—spurred in part by private conversations with the National Rifle Association.
On Sunday, Trump said that the most recent tragedy hadn’t changed how lawmakers were approaching any gun control legislation.
"We are in the process of dealing with Democrats and Republicans, and there’s a big package of things that’s going to be put before them by a lot of different people, I’ve been speaking to a lot of Senators, a lot of House Members, Republicans, Democrats—this really hasn’t changed anything, we’re doing a package and we’ll see how it comes about," he said. "That’s irrespective of what happened yesterday in Texas."
Nevertheless, he seemed to pour more cold water on background checks specifically.
"Over the last five, six, or seven years, no matter how strong you need the background checks, it wouldn’t have stopped any of it," Trump said.
Before Saturday's shooting, Democratic and Republican lawmakers on the Hill had been pushing to make clear that talks with the White House to work out a deal on new gun laws were still alive and well in the wake of the El Paso and Dayton shootings.
On Thursday, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), a leading advocate of gun control, sent out a press release stating that talks with the White House were ongoing over legislation to expand background checks.
"The White House is at the table," said Murphy, "and I continue to see a path where good legislation emerges that the president supports and can pass the Senate."
Meanwhile, a scheduled meeting of the House Judiciary Committee next week to consider fresh gun bills—a move made by Democrats in response to public outcry over the shootings—was supposed to keep gun control in the headlines as Congress returns from its August recess, but it was postponed due to concerns over Hurricane Dorian.
But the Texas shooting only supercharged the mood among lawmakers around guns. On Saturday, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) said that action can't wait until Congress returns; in a tweet, he demanded Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) call the House back into session "tomorrow" to begin a marathon legislative session on an assault weapons ban, red flag laws, and other bills. "Don't let us out until every member votes on every gun violence bill," he said.
Speaking to reporters last week, Khanna said that passage of a so-called "red flag" law proposal—a comparatively modest measure supported by many Republicans to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people—should be considered the floor, not the ceiling, of congressional action, saying he'd be "disappointed" if that were all Congress could manage to pass.
Khanna added that Pelosi should have called the House back into session right after Dayton and El Paso. “I would’ve said, let’s come back... Get as much action on 3 pieces of strong legislation, stand outside the Capitol and say, ‘where’s the Senate?’”
Pelosi meanwhile urged the Republican-led Senate to take up gun control legislation that passed in the House in February.
“Enough is enough,” she said in a statement on 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.”
But even Republican senators who remained hopeful that the president would take action on the issue of gun control sounded a note of uncertainty on Sunday.
"I can't guarantee an outcome, I don't know where this all ends, but the president is very interested, I am very interested in measures that make it harder for people who shouldn't have guns to get guns, and we're going to take a very serious run at it," Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who co-authored legislation that would expand background checks with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), said on ABC’s This Week.
While congressional Democrats urged legislative action and publicly remained hopeful that something could be achieved, 2020 Democratic presidential candidates expressed outrage and exasperation.
“The rhetoric that we’ve used, the thoughts and prayers that you just referred to, it has done nothing to stop the epidemic of gun violence, to protect our kids, our families, our fellow Americans in public places,” former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke said in an interview on CNN, while advocating for gun buybacks of weapons like the AR-15. “So yes, this is fucked up.”
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, another Texas Democrat in the race for the presidency, said on Meet the Press that “The biggest lies that the president has told include that he would do something about universal background checks.”
In their home state though, a number of loosened firearm laws went into effect on Sunday, the day after the mass shooting. The measures, passed during the 2019 legislative session, include permitting licensed gun owners to store a firearm in a locked vehicle in school parking areas, loosening some restrictions on the number of armed school marshals at public or private schools and allowing licensed gun owners to carry weapons in places of worships.
Texas’ Republican Governor Greg Abbott said on Sunday during a press conference that “Words must be met with action,” though according to reporters, he stopped short of calling for a special session of the legislature in order to deal with the crisis. At least 17 Texas state lawmakers had requested the session following the shooting in El Paso.