Congress silent on issue of gun control

Washington - After the fatal shootings at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, US Senator Joe Manchin, who sponsored gun safety legislation that failed in Congress two years ago, released a statement lamenting "the nine souls who were lost". One word he did not use was "guns".

Neither did the Twitter message of Representative Mike Thompson, the head of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. Representative Nancy Pelosi, the liberal minority leader, visibly shaken by the shooting, said nothing about guns last Thursday. Nor did Senator Patrick Toomey, who was the co-author of Mr Manchin's legislation.

Two and a half years after the massacre of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, galvanised some lawmakers to seek modest gun control legislation, the prospects now are even more remote.

Lawmakers, weary from the emotional fight and ultimate failure to get a Bill to enhance background checks for gun sales off the Senate floor two years ago, seem resigned to the view that if 20 small children killed in a school cannot move Congress, then nine black men and women shot dead by a white man during Bible study will not, either.

That reality was summed up by President Barack Obama when he spoke last Thursday.

But recognising that he sounded more resigned than he intended, he offered a more vigorous call for gun control during a speech in San Francisco the next day.

"If Congress had passed some common-sense gun safety reforms after Newtown, after a group of children had been gunned down in their own classroom - reforms that 90 per cent of the American people supported - we wouldn't have prevented every act of violence, or even most," Mr Obama said.

"We don't know if it would have prevented what happened in Charleston... But we might still have some more Americans with us."

He added: "You don't see murder on this kind of scale with this kind of frequency in any other advanced nation on earth. Every country has violent, hateful or mentally unstable people. What's different is that not every country is awash with easily accessible guns. And so I refuse to act as if this is the new normal."

The silence on the issue of gun control is frustrating to some lawmakers. "I really believe that our silence is making us complicit in these murders," said Senator Christopher Murphy, who continues to advocate for gun legislation.

New York Times

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 21, 2015, with the headline 'Congress silent on issue of gun control'. Print Edition | Subscribe