Where Trump & Congress Stand On Gun Control After The West Texas Mass Shooting
Yet another mass shooter killed seven people and injured 24 others on Saturday in West Texas. The number of mass shootings in 2019 as of Sept. 1 (283) exceeded the number of days that passed this year up to that point (244), according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, which compiles and fact-checks information and research related to gun violence. There's been a renewed call for action from both the president and Congress since 31 people were killed in the Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas shootings at the beginning of August. But what is actually being done to prevent even more mass shootings? So far, neither Congress nor President Donald Trump have enacted any drastic changes to gun laws.
Among the victims of the West Texas mass shootings were a girl who had just celebrated her quinceañera, or 15th birthday; a truck driver and father of three; and a former math teacher, according to NBC News. Trump responded to the situation on Twitter on Sunday, writing, "Great job by Texas Law Enforcement and First Responders in handling the terrible shooting tragedy yesterday," and adding that it was "a very tough and sad situation!" He also took a swing at strengthening the background check system, saying that it wouldn't have stopped the shooting, and instead said mass shootings are "a mental problem," according to CBS News.
Here's what the Trump administration and Congress have done thus far to help stop mass shootings, and what they say is in the works after a month of deadly attacks.
What Trump And Congress Say They're Doing Now
Most recently, Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, Marc Short, told reporters that the Justice Department has drafted legislation that would expedite the death penalty for people found guilty of carrying out mass shootings, according to CBS News. Trump had called for that action after the El Paso and Dayton shootings, saying those who are found guilty of committing hate crimes or mass attacks should be executed "decisively" and "without years of delay."
The legislation is part of a mysterious, bipartisan "package" of proposals meant to reduce mass shootings, according to Vox. Trump told reporters on Sunday, “We’re looking at a lot of different things. We’re looking at a lot of different bills, ideas, concepts,” but Vox reports he didn't offer any other specifics about what is included in the package.
After El Paso and Dayton, Trump also called for states to adopt "red flag laws," which allow family members and, in some cases, police officers, to get an extreme risk protection order (ERPO) to confiscate firearms from someone who might be a danger to themselves or others. Trump said these would ensure that people who are "judged a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms," according to NPR.
Trump didn't ask Congress to pass a federal red flag law, but instead asked them to work with states to encourage them to pass their own legislation. Seventeen states and Washington D.C. currently have such laws on the books.
The president also told reporters on Aug. 9 that he had “tremendous support” for expanding background checks to include most private party firearms sales. He claimed Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate majority leader who has opposed most gun safety measures, also supported the proposal, according to NBC News.
But Trump reversed his position on expanding background checks on Aug. 20, misleadingly claiming that mental health was at play in mass shootings. And he repeated that idea on Sunday, when he called the west Texas shooter a "very sick person," adding that he doesn't think background checks would've stopped the shooting.
"If you look at the last four or five, going back even five or six or seven years, for the most part, as strong as you make your background checks, they would not have stopped any of it," he said, as quoted by CBS News. "So it's a big problem. It's a mental problem."
It should be noted that mental health professionals are adamant that gun violence is not a mental health issue, as people with mental illness are no more likely to commit violent crimes than others.
After the El Paso and Dayton shootings, McConnell said he would open the Senate floor for debate on gun safety legislation — specifically on expanded background checks — once the Senate returned from its recess on Sept. 4. But even if a background check measure did make it through the Senate, the president's most recent comments on the issue appear to indicate that he wouldn't sign it into law.
What Trump Has Done On Guns Already
The Trump administration hasn't done much by way of legislation to help reduce gun-related deaths. In fact, despite his recent focus on mental health and mass shootings, Trump rolled back an Obama-era regulation aimed at preventing people with a known history of mental illness from buying guns in one of his earliest actions as president. He signed a law in February 2017 ending a requirement that the Social Security administration enter the names of anyone who receives mental health benefits into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, according to ABC News.
After a gunman killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018, Trump also ordered the Justice Department to ban bump stocks. The accessories allow people to convert semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons, making them more deadly. The administration ultimately announced it would ban bump stocks in December, and that rule took effect on March 26.
There are a couple other gun measures that Trump's administration expressed support for in the past but didn't follow through on. The administration urged Congress to pass a bill that would block bonus pay for political appointees in federal and state agencies that fail to upload records of criminal histories to the background check system. It also advocated for funding for the STOP School Violence Act, which provides state-based grants to evidence-based violence prevention programs in communities. To date, neither of those proposals have passed Congress.
In a meeting with lawmakers after the Parkland shooting, Trump also proposed raising the age limit for buying assault-style semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21. But he seemed to back down on that position on Twitter weeks later, writing, "....On 18 to 21 Age Limits, watching court cases and rulings before acting. States are making this decision. Things are moving rapidly on this, but not much political support (to put it mildly)."
Trump has yet to propose any other gun safety reform, though he will likely face more pressure as the number of mass shootings this year continues to increase. If his past actions are any indication, the president will express support for a gun safety measure one day, and the next — sometimes after a conversation with the National Rifle Association — his position will completely flip.