Members of congress, their staff and voters across the country had come to expect a rhythm that these days is perhaps petering out. For years, after a mass shooting, there would inevitably be a debate of some sort on gun control on Capitol Hill.
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For example, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 -- which left twenty children and six adults dead -- there was a push for stricter background checks and a limit on ammunition.
And last year, following the shooting massacre at Orlando's LGBT Pulse Nightclub -- during which 49 people were killed -- Democratic members sat on the floor and demanded a vote on what seemed to be a small measure to them: purchasing access for people on non-fly, terror watch lists.
But yesterday, after a gunman opened fire on some of their own congressional colleagues at a Virginia park baseball diamond, only a few Democrats fell back on familiar gun control talking points and frustration about the abundance of weapons in the U.S. Instead, by and large, the tone was different than after past tragedies. There appeared to be a sensitivity that it was not the appropriate time to fight with their colleagues over policy. And there was also a resignation, it seemed, that both parties know where the other stands, and little, if anything, could be passed on the federal level.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who led the filibusters last summer and has been a vocal advocate for stricter laws since the Sandy Hook tragedy in his state, wrote that he was glad the congressional baseball game was going forward, but he worried about how fast the country could move on from "cataclysmic" events?
“Are we so jaundiced to gun violence and mass shootings that it only takes us twenty four hours now to revert back to business as usual?” Murphy wrote on his Facebook page. “We are becoming massively desensitized to the carnage.”
Hours after the shooting, Murphy, sounded disheartened and hopeless that his colleagues in Washington would ever address the epidemic of gun violence through stricter regulations.
“We’re beyond the place where Washington responds to mass shootings. I mean, we don’t. We don’t. After Orlando and Sandy Hook, that’s clearly not how people’s minds work here,” he told Politico.
Former New York congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, one of the most persistent and determined Democrats on the issue during her nine terms in office, expressed dismay during an interview with ABC News Thursday.
“It is a shame that nothing is done between these horrible shootings,” she said. McCarthy’s husband was fatally shot in 1993 during a shooting rampage on a Long Island Rail Road commuter train outside New York City.
The idea that talking about policies after a shooting was seen as somehow politicizing a tragedy still makes McCarthy defensive. “We can’t talk about it any other time. Nobody listens to us. It just dies,” she said. “When was the last time you heard about anyone trying to do anything when there isn’t a mass shooting of any sort? The subject just won’t come up."
She argued, almost disparagingly, that if Democrats think they have a chance at taking back the majority of the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterms, she thought they were even less likely to push the issue.
In fact, it was Republicans instead yesterday who talked about possible policy solutions. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, who was at the practice during the shooting suggested it would have been better if more people on the scene had guns to shot back at the assailant.
“We had no arms, all we had were bats,” he said during a press conference. “We were sitting ducks.”
Representative Tom Garrett, R-Va., spoke to the New York Times about a bill he introduced in March that would make it easier for people to carry a gun and “allow the most law-abiding among us to defend themselves.”
On the one hand, McCarthy said she was glad there was talk of bipartisanship and calming the political rhetoric after yesterday's shooting, but she also sounded disappointed watching the coverage of Capitol Hill.
“Towards the end of my career, I thought, ‘Could we stop praying for everybody who gets shot or injured and just do something about it? That is how frustrated you get and I know most victims feel the same way,” she said.