As the cycle of American gun violence took its latest turn on Tuesday, with at least 19 children and two teachers brutally murdered at an elementary school in the small town of Uvalde, Texas, the response from the Republican right came from an all too familiar playbook.
Thoughts and prayers, obfuscation and inaction.
Shortly after the shooting, Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who for well over a decade has led his party in vehemently blocking a raft of federal gun control measures, decried the “disgusting violence” in Uvalde and said: “The entire country is praying for the children, families, teachers, and staff and the first responders on the scene.”
But prayers aside, there remains little to no hope of commonsense gun control measures making their way into federal law, despite support from the majority of American voters.
Within hours of the bloodshed on Tuesday, many of the national Republican Party’s most outspoken voices on gun ownership recited talking points now rote in the aftermath of mass shootings.
Texas senator Ted Cruz, who also sent prayers to the community in Uvalde, castigated Democrats and members of the media during a brief interview with CNN. “Inevitably when there’s a murder of this kind you see politicians try to politicize it,” he said. “You see Democrats and a lot of folks in the media whose immediate solution is to try to restrict the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. That doesn’t work. It’s not effective. It doesn’t prevent crime.”
His remarks were almost identical in the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting in Florida back in 2018, which claimed the lives of 17 students and teachers. Despite a grassroots protest movement, in which hundreds of thousands of school children descended on Washington in a March for Our Lives, no federal legislation was passed. Jury selection in the death penalty trial of the Parkland shooter continues this week, a further marker of the trauma these mass shootings leave behind.
Meanwhile, Cruz is set to speak at the National Rifle Association leadership summit on Friday, in Houston, just 280 miles from Uvalde, alongside Donald Trump and Texas governor Greg Abbott.
Other senior Texas Republicans, who have presided over a series of measures aimed at loosening restrictions on firearm ownership in the state, reiterated calls to arm teachers, despite the fact the shooter engaged a number of armed officers as he successfully stormed the school building.
“We can’t stop bad people from doing bad things,” Texas attorney general Ken Paxton told Fox News on Tuesday. “We can potentially arm and prepare and train teachers and other administrators to respond quickly. That, in my opinion, is the best answer.”
Among other US Republican senators, perceived as more open to bipartisan agreement, the sentiment remained largely the same. North Carolina senator Thom Tillis told reporters on Tuesday he had not seen any indication in initial reports that suggested the shooter’s record “was in any way affected by Congress’s actions or inaction”.
Tillis continued to express skepticism over so-called “red flag laws” adopted by a handful of US states in the wake of Parkland, which aim to allow authorities to restrict gun ownership from individuals deemed a threat to public safety. In 2019 bipartisan efforts in the US Senate to support such laws failed and on Tuesday Tillis reiterated his concern that such laws were “overreach”.
While Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, passed two House gun control bills last year, which aimed to expand and strengthen background checks, there remains little to no hope of their passage through the split US Senate where 60 votes are required to pass legislation. On Tuesday, the conservative Democrat Joe Manchin also reiterated he did not support calls from within the party to reform senate filibuster rules, which could allow the passage of legislation with a simple majority.
There was no sign either that a new generation of Republican senators might offer any hope for bipartisan gun reform measures. At a victory party on Tuesday night in Georgia, the newly nominated, Trump-endorsed Senate candidate Herschel Walker evaded questions over the massacre.
Asked if he supported any new gun control measures in the aftermath, Walker responded: “What I like to … what I like to do, is see it and everything and stuff,” before being ushered away.
Supporters at the event reportedly booed as president Joe Biden’s address to the nation was broadcast, during which he asked: “When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? When in God’s name are we going to do what has to be done? Why are we willing to live with this carnage?”
The president was far from alone in expressing indignation on the legislative paralysis in Congress.
During an impassioned speech on the senate floor on Tuesday, Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy invoked the memory of the Sandy Hook massacre almost 10 years ago in his home state as he urged his colleagues to engage with reform efforts.
“What are we doing?” Murphy said. “Why do you spend all this time running for the United States Senate? Why do you go through all the hassle of getting this job, of putting yourself in a position of authority, if your answer is that as this slaughter increases, as our kids run for their lives, we do nothing?”