Last week’s mass-shooting at an Oregon college that left 10 people dead has revived the politically-polarizing issue of gun violence in the United States and what, if anything, should be done about it.
“I don’t know what to feel right now,” said Sara, a student at Umpqua Community College. “I’m terrified. I don’t want to go back there for a long time.”
An outpouring of shock and grief in Oregon comes months after a deadly mass shooting at a South Carolina church and nearly three years after a bloodbath at a Connecticut elementary school.
In each case, tragedy spurs fierce debate on Capitol Hill. But legislation aimed at curbing America’s firearms mortality rate, the highest among developed nations, has been stymied for years.
“We’ve become numb to this,” said a visibly angry President Barack Obama Thursday. “This is a political choice we make to allow this to happen every few months in America. We collectively are answerable to those families who lose loved ones because of our inaction.”
Those running to succeed Obama are speaking out.
“I know there is a way to have sensible gun control measures that help prevent violence, prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands and save lives,” said Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Republicans are far less enthusiastic about a legislative approach.
“Before we start calling for more laws, I think we ought to consider why we don’t enforce the laws we have,” said Republican presidential contender Carly Fiorina.
Fellow-Republican Jeb Bush made headlines with a comment about the challenges of leadership in general, but which many saw as insensitive to the tragedy in Oregon.
“Look, stuff happens. There’s always a crisis,” Bush said. “And the impulse is always to do something, and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”
In 2013, a bill to better-scrutinize firearms purchasers was blocked in the Senate by gun-rights defenders. Today’s Republican-led Congress has even fewer members willing to consider gun control legislation.
But the president is undeterred.
“This will not change until the politics change and the behavior of elected officials changes,” Obama said. “And so the main thing I’m going to do is talk about this on a regular basis.”
The Democratic Party leader in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, is calling for a special commission to probe gun violence and recommend legislative solutions. Meanwhile, America’s biggest gun-rights lobbying group, the National Rifle Association, has not commented officially yet on the Oregon tragedy or the political firestorm it rekindled.