Senate Republicans on Monday cast doubt on the possibility of legislative action on firearms in response to the shooting at a school in Nashville, Tenn., earlier in the day.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters that he does not believe the Senate can go any further on firearm-related bills or on expanding background checks than the chamber did last year when it passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act following the mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. The legislation was the most consequential gun safety package signed into law in three decades and became law with bipartisan support, with Cornyn as the lead GOP negotiator for the legislation.
“I do not,” Cornyn told reporters when asked if the votes are there to take any additional steps. “I would say we’ve gone about as far as we can go unless somebody identifies some area that we didn’t address,” he added about background checks specifically.
Three 9-year-old children and three adults were killed during Monday’s shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville. The shooter is believed to be a former student at the private Christian school.
Fifteen Senate Republicans joined with every Democratic member to pass the bipartisan bill last summer. Four of those members retired at the end of last year.
Among other things, the law expanded background checks for individuals under the age of 21 who wanted to buy a gun by giving local authorities more time to look at their mental health records and juvenile past. It also boosted mental health services funding for states and incentivized localities to implement red-flag laws, which would allow for guns to be temporarily confiscated from anyone considered too dangerous to keep them in their possession.
Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters that more details surrounding the shooting need to emerge before lawmakers can discuss possible legislative remedies.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure of the answer to that until we get more of the facts in — in this case, the lady who was the perpetrator of all this and how she acquired firearms and all that. I think those are all questions we need to get answered,” Thune said.
“We don’t know all of the details yet,” Thune said, noting that the Senate also took action in 2018 with the Fix NICS bill that aimed to improve reporting of background checks.
Will there be action on red-flag laws?
One item where there is not expected to be further action specifically is on red-flag laws, multiple GOP senators said. Tennessee is not among the current list of states that have them on the books, but a push for universal red-flag laws is not an effort leading Republicans plan to be part of.
“You’re not going to see us move anything remotely at the federal level for red-flag legislation,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) told The Hill.
Tillis, who was among the 15 Senate Republicans who voted for last year’s bipartisan package, added that his focus is set on the ongoing implementation of that legislation and, specifically, the behavioral health and crisis intervention order provisions that were part of that.
Earlier on Monday, President Biden re-upped his call to ban semiautomatic weapons — a long-standing position of his.
“It’s about time that we begin to make some more progress,” Biden said, adding that the White House would continue to monitor the situation.
Republicans criticized the president for the early call to ban assault weapons and noted that it is unclear what type of firearm the shooter used specifically. It has been reported that she used two “assault-style” guns and a pistol.
“The president just keeps coming back to the same-old tired talking points, so he’s not offering any new solutions or ideas. If he does, I think we should consider them, but so far I haven’t heard anything,” Cornyn said. “I don’t know what’s being proposed other than why President Biden keeps coming back to, which is a ban on assault weapons, which would require the confiscation of 16 million semiautomatic weapons that are owned by law-abiding citizens.”
Democrats push for action
Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 ranked Senate Democrat, in remarks on the Senate floor called for legislative action in response to the latest school shooting.
“Once again, thoughts and prayers are not enough,” Durbin said, adding that these school shootings are happening with a “sickening regularity in this country.”
“I urge my colleagues to come together on a bipartisan basis. We can’t say that we’ve solved this problem or even addressed it seriously when incidents like today in Nashville, Tennessee, continue in America,” Durbin continued. “We need to pass more reforms.”
Other Senate Democrats indicated they want Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to start putting partisan bills on the floor for votes, such as an assault weapons ban and legislation calling for universal background checks.
“I think America wants to see where people stand on some of these issues,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.), the lead Democratic negotiator on last year’s bill.