This past October brought a wave of sorrow to Americans, as deadly attacks were carried out twice within weeks of one another. A total of 66 individuals lost their lives – 58 from the Las Vegas shooting on October 1st, and eight from a truck plowing through a pedestrian area in Manhattan on October 31st. Hundreds of others were also injured by the events.
These events have been shortly followed by a mass shooting targeting a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas on by Dylan Clark on November 5th. Thus far, the tragedy has taken 25 lives from the town, which has a population of only 643 people.
The Vegas shooting was carried out by Stephen Paddock: a white, American citizen who executed his attack on 22,000 concertgoers from a nearby Mandalay Bay hotel room. Upon uncovering Paddock as the source, law enforcement officials found 23 weapons inside the room, many of which were rifles, and some having been altered in order to silence them or to allow them to function as automatic weapons.
The event swiftly precipitated conversations about gun control, as mainly liberal legislators pointed to the tragedy as an example for the need to implement comprehensive background checks and to close gun-purchase loopholes.
Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, in a tweet called for congress to “have the conversation about gun control,” followed by a push for urgency: “We need it NOW.” Similarly, Democrat Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania tweeted that “the nation’s security continues to be at risk because Congress refuses to take real, meaningful action to curb gun violence.”
The following week even presented what was speculated to be a promising bill to ban bump stocks, an attachment that Paddock used to vamp up his semi-automatic rifles’ discharge speed to that of automatics. But nearly a month later, the momentum for that bill has come to a halt.
This kind of failed legislation combined with the disintegration of the discussion on gun control as a whole is in large part due to the Republican backlash against the topic, claiming that Democrats were “politicizing” the massacre and being inconsiderate of the nation’s need to mourn.
House Speaker Paul Ryan argued that it was wrong to use the event to attempt to advance “a political or policy cause” or to “lurch towards reactions before we even have all the facts” – a sentiment that made Democrats seem opportunistic, warding off any further conversations or actions that could be taken to prevent similar horrors from reoccurring.
However, Republican reactions, specifically those of President Donald Trump, to the more recent Manhattan attack mirrored the reactions of Democrats to Vegas.
The Manhattan attack was carried out by Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year-old legal immigrant from Uzbekistan. Siapov claims he was inspired to drive the truck through the New York crowd by ISIS propaganda videos, 90 of which have since been found on his phone.
In response, merely hours later Trump came forward stating that the situation was a justification for an immigration overhaul, and for stepping up the nation’s “already Extreme Vetting Program,” paralleling the policy-based response that he had previously criticized.
I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 1, 2017
When asked about the double standard, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders insisted that the President’s discussion on immigration was simply a part of an ongoing narrative, stating in the November 1st briefing that “The president has been talking about extreme vetting and the need for that, for the purpose of protecting the citizens of this country since he was a candidate, long before he was ever president.”
Although, this rationale presents an apparent loophole, as a majority of Democrats have been talking about gun control reform and the need to implement it in order to protect American citizens since they were candidates as well.
Nevertheless, some Democrats are being accused of furthering the ‘he politicized, she politicized’ narrative. Specifically, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York (D) took to the floor to criticize Trump for “politicizing” and “dividing” the nation after the Manhattan attack. This was after Trump published a tweet citing the “Diversity Lottery Program” as Saipov’s ticket to enter the U.S., and calling out Schumer by name as its founder.
Schumer’s accusations of politicizing were also made despite the fact that he himself made fairly direct remarks on policy and the GOP after the Vegas shooting. On October 3rd, Schumer stated in a since deleted tweet,“In the face of tens of thousands of gun deaths every year, too many Republicans in Congress have tried to enact the dream agenda of the gun lobby and the NRA.” In contrast, when criticizing Trump, the senator did not play the ‘we need time to mourn’ card, and alternatively proposed the need for more anti-terrorism funding.
Regardless, the similarities between the two’s responses to tragedies that created momentum for their policy initiatives has drawn attention. The consensus is that it’s not as much about the politicization of tragedies, but more so about not giving political opponents opportunities to advance their agendas in the face of tragedy.
This sort of strategizing, while surely optimal for reelections, creates for a stalemate in progress for either side. Thus, failing to actually enact any piece of legislation aimed at preventing a repeat of terrorist attacks, gun violence or other harmful acts effected by policy. Additionally, it hinders the chance for any bipartisan legislation to come to fruition.
This week’s shooting, that fear of repetition became a reality with the Texas church massacre. While the situation is still developing, it is likely fair to say that any legislation passed within this time period would not have been able to take effect yet. But, this does make it clear how immediate the need for solutions has become.
On November 1st, a group of survivors from the Vegas shooting who were lobbying for congress to pass the aforementioned dwindling bump stock bill expressed frustration with how quickly attention on the issue had been lost.
Jason Sherman, one of those survivors in attendance, stated, “We knew that something needed to be done and we just assumed that the country was behind us. I think a month later we’ve seen nothing happen.”
Robert Gaafar, another survivor, vocalized his anger, asserting that congress’ actions were “A joke. An absolute joke.”
At the bill’s start, there was bipartisan support and backers were offered a promising outlook towards enacting the legislation. However, it was promptly after the criticism over politicizing started that the bill began to lose bipartisan interest. Republicans began to pull out of discussions, and the Senate stated that it would refuse to even give the bill a hearing until the Vegas investigation was further underway.
Had this conversation on politicizing not occurred, it is likely the bill could have continued on its way and becoming a tangible solution – a solution that would have had the potential to protect the next set of lives in a bipartisan, unifying way, if even at a political cost.