CAPITOL HILL —
Amid an outpouring of grief and condolences as the death toll climbed higher from Monday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, one U.S. senator sent out a tweet, pointing an angry finger at his colleagues on Capitol Hill.
Murphy represents Connecticut, where a gunman toting a semi-automatic rifle slaughtered 20 children aged six and seven at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Congress enacted no legislation restricting firearms in the months that followed, nor after any subsequent mass shooting, including last year’s bloodbath at an Orlando, Florida nightclub that left 49 people dead.
“Thoughts and prayers need to be matched by action,” Murphy said later on the Senate floor. “The reason why we exist is to act, is to change the laws of the nation, to address challenges that our constituents face.”
During a visit to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico on Tuesday, President Donald Trump praised Las Vegas’ police force and said, “We’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes by.”
Forcing the dialogue
In both houses of Congress, many Democrats are attempting to force an immediate dialogue in hopes of jumpstarting legislation on measures that have broad public support, such as expanding background checks for gun purchasers and scrutinizing firearms sales at gun shows.
“If ISIS had just killed 59 people, every Republican and the President of the United States would be saying we need to take action now," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland.
For now, most Republicans are attempting to steer clear of the topic, except to assail the timing and motives of Democrats.
“The Democrats are going to keep politicizing every tragedy that occurs — I think that’s despicable on their part,” said Representative Chris Collins of New York. “My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims here. This is not the time to automatically reach into the desk drawer and pull [out] gun control [bills].”
"When is the time to debate this?” Hoyer countered. “Is there ever a time to debate this or are we so cowed by the National Rifle Association [gun rights lobbying group] that we can't even talk about this issue and think about how we can make America safe again?"
The NRA did not comment immediately on the carnage in Las Vegas, but other organizations representing gun owners insisted the mass shooting in no way invalidates Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms.
“There’s no way to make a law, any law that would stop an evil person from doing an evil deed,” Eddie Fulmer, president of Bama Carry, an Alabama run rights group, told VOA. “I don’t think restrictions do anything but prevent honest, law-abiding people from getting a weapon they need and deserve to have, with the freedoms we have in America.”
Murphy rejected such arguments after the Newtown slaughter and did so again this week.
“Laws do work,” the Democratic senator said. “Though you can’t regulate away evil in total, you can do more to protect people.”
Although there is little appetite for new gun restrictions among Republicans who control both houses of Congress, legislation to liberalize firearms sales is being put on hold. House Speaker Paul Ryan announced on Tuesday that a bill deregulating the sale of gun silencers has been shelved.
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Trump is visiting Las Vegas Wednesday to mourn the loss of life and honor the city’s first responders. Democrats want the president to do much more.
“I’m glad the president is going to Las Vegas. That’s a good idea,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. “But he should take it a step further and call us together and lead this nation in some rational laws about gun safety that the overwhelming majority of Americans — Democrat, Republican and Independent — support.”
VOA's Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.