After a Summer of Violence, What Comes Next?

Onlookers stand outside an El Paso Walmart, where a gunman killed 22 shoppers in August ( Image )

Onlookers stand outside an El Paso Walmart, where a gunman killed 22 shoppers in August (Image)

 

As we transition from summer to fall, a topic that just a few months ago seemed urgent and salient has slipped from public consciousness: the summer of 2019 was one of the deadliest periods in American history for mass shootings. This summer, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, there were 26 mass shootings in 18 states, leaving 126 people dead. 

There was El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 3, where a gunman stormed into a local Walmart and killed 20 people, targeting shoppers of Hispanic descent.

There was Dayton, Ohio, just a day later on Aug. 4. A gunman with an AR-15 killed nine people and injured 27 in just 32 seconds late on a Saturday in a crowded nightlife district. 

There was Odessa, Texas, on August 31: a gunman killed seven people with an assault rifle while driving down a highway between Odessa and nearby Midland. 

After each shooting, there were national outcries for change and reform. But each time, little changed and another shooting followed. What happened?

Some changes can be found in the private sector: after the El Paso shooting, Walmart changed its poliies on gun sales and guns in their stores. Walmart will stop selling some types of ammunition, stop selling handguns and prohibit customers from openly carrying guns inside their stores. 

Change is less certain in the federal government, however. In February, the House passed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which mandated background checks on all gun sales in the United States. The House also worked on several companion bills, including a bill that would extend the period for a background check to be completed before a gun sale can be finalized. 

After the El Paso and Dayton shootings, President Donald Trump seemed to warm up to the idea of gun control measures, including background checks. He then backed away from this position and turned to common conservative views that mental health and violent video games ought to be primary concerns.  But later, he appeared to support background checks again, saying “I have an appetite for background checks.” Trump’s changing positions have confused not only gun control activists but also Second Amendment supporters. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to hold a vote on the gun control bill passed by the House, angering Democrats who view action on gun control as urgent and critical. McConnell has mostly deferred to Trump’s judgement on the issue, saying that “if the president took a position on a bill so that we knew we would actually be making a law and not just having serial votes, I'd be happy to put it on the floor.”

Although progress on gun control discussions has stalled, especially as the recent focus of the country has turned towards the impeachment inquiry into President Trump started by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. However, some are still holding out hope that it will be addressed. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has pushed President Trump on the issue, saying that “The best way President Trump can prove that he still can govern is universal background checks.”

For now, gun control legislation is still stuck in Congress as President Trump, Senator McConnell and leading Democrats struggle to agree. Further, the chaos surrounding the impeachment inquiry may garner too much attention, again precluding any action on gun control. After a historic summer of mass shootings — after El Paso, after Dayton, after Odessa, after so many others — it seems once more that change is still far away.