US mass shootings: tentative signs of gun control co-operation

Trump speaking to senators from both parties to gauge support for possible measures

There were tentative signs yesterday [Wednesday] that Congress was considering new measures on gun control, as the fall-out from two back-to-back mass shootings in Texas and Ohio earlier this month continued.

Discussions between a small group of Democratic and Republican members and White House officials have been taking place behind the scenes, with speculation that senior officials will fly to New Jersey to join US president Donald Trump at his golf club in Bedminster for talks in the coming days.

Mr Trump spoke by phone to senators from both parties this week to gauge support for possible measures, amid resistance from the Republican caucus to backing any measure that could affect second-amendment rights to own a weapon.

The president spoke to Democratic senator Chris Murphy on Tuesday, one of the strongest advocates for gun control in the Senate since the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, which took place in his home state of Connecticut. Mr Trump described it as a "good conversation", while Mr Murphy said the two had "common ground", though he urged the president and the Republican party to stop giving the gun lobby "veto power".


Mr Trump also spoke to West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Pennsylvanian Republican senator Pat Toomey in recent days about possible ways forward.

Under pressure

Senate Republicans and majority leader Mitch McConnell have come under pressure from Democrats to deal with gun legislation, following the Senate’s refusal to take up background-check legislation that the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed in February.

The leaders of the House Democratic task force on gun violence prevention wrote to Mr McConnell on Wednesday, requesting a meeting to discuss gun reform.

“The American people sent us to Washington to get things done,” the letter states. “That includes putting an end to the epidemic of gun violence.”

But the Kentucky senator, the top Republican in the Senate, has so far refused to recall the 100-member chamber to discuss gun control.

Polls show that the vast majority of Americans support stronger background checks, though Republicans have suggested that they will concentrate instead on so-called “red-flag” legislation that would stop people with mental health issues from accessing a weapon.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi took aim at the Senate majority leader, using the moniker "Moscow Mitch" to describe the Kentucky Republican, who was criticised for blocking two election security Bills that were put forward by Democrats after former special counsel Robert Mueller warned of widespread election interference by Russia during testimony to Congress last month.

Speaking at an event in Illinois, Ms Pelosi urged the Senate to act on background-checks legislation.

"We must pass gun violence prevention legislation," she said. "Every day we lose lives." Ms Pelosi also suggested a measure on limiting high-capacity gun magazines, but Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bennett said Democrats should focus on one specific measure – background checks – rather than on a range of possible solutions.

Cross-party dialogue

Signs of cross-party dialogue on the issue of gun regulation emerged as an Ohio teenager was arrested and charged by prosecutors after police discovered threatening online activity.

FBI agents raided 18-year-old Justin Olsen’s home and found an arsenal, including 10,000 rounds of ammunition, 25 guns and camouflage clothing. Mr Olsen was charged with one count of threatening to assault an officer and is due in court later this week.

His arrest takes place amid heightened calls for authorities to tackle so-called “domestic terrorism” amid a spike in far-right activity, particularly online. The shooter who killed 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, earlier this month is believed to have posted an online manifesto before the attack in which he talked about his desire to target Hispanics.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent