USAmerica Letter

US political system appears to have given up on gun control measures

Biden’s repeated calls for a ban on assault weapons opposed by Republicans in Congress

It was the week the US political system appeared to throw in the towel on any further legislative steps to tackle gun violence.

Up to the end of March there have been 131 mass shooting incidents in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive. There have been more than 10,200 gun deaths overall – although more than half of these were cases of suicide.

The latest high-profile shooting incident came in Nashville earlier this week, in which six people including three children were killed in an attack on a school.

In the aftermath, US president Joe Biden gave a remarkably candid assessment that he was powerless to do any more on gun control. “I have gone the full extent of my executive authority to do, on my own, anything about guns,” Biden said.


Throughout his time in the White House the president has been pushing for the introduction of a ban on assault weapons – high powered semi automatic rifles that have been used in several gun attacks across the country.

Biden played a key role in getting a ban on assault weapons passed in 1994. It was in place for 10 years but lapsed under a sunset clause. Biden has argued that when the measure was in place the number of mass shootings went down.

Following the mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York last year, the US Congress did pass the first gun control legislation in 30 years.

This provided for enhanced background checks for those under the age of 21 seeking to buy guns and also included funding for mental health services and school security.

For the president and his Democratic Party, these were welcome measures but never went far enough.

Up to the start of this year, Democrats controlled the White House and both chambers in the Congress, but it was not enough to overcome Republican opposition to stricter gun control measures.

Now with the Republicans in charge in the House of Representatives, the hill to climb to secure further gun control measures has become steeper.

On Tuesday the chaplain of the US Senate opened the session by urging its members to move beyond the usual comments about their “thoughts and prayers” being with the families of victims of gun violence.

He quoted the comment attributed to Edmund Burke that “all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing”.

However, Republican senators showed little interest in pursuing the issue of gun control.

John Thune, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said it was too soon for any movement on gun legislation, such as universal background checks.

“It is premature There’s an ongoing investigation, and I think we need to let the facts come out”, he said.

Emotions were running high, which led to a public confrontation between a Democrat and Republicanin the halls of Congress just off the floor of the House.

Jamaal Bowman, a Democrat and former teacher from New York said the American people needed to know that Republicans did not have the courage to do anything to save the lives of children.

Thomas Massie, a Republican, argued that the controversial policy of arming teachers in school was working. “Every school where teachers are allowed to carry, there has never been a shooting”, he said.

Polling in the United States suggest that more people want tighter gun safety laws – although it is down a little from last summer when the country experienced a number of shooting incidents.

However Republicans in the Senate tend to represent conservative states where gun ownership is popular.

The fear is that any move to restrict the right to bear arms, including high-powered assault weapons, would cost the party dearly at the ballot box.

Republicans raise the spectre of government agents, in the event of such a prohibition being introduced, coming to take away the guns of peaceful owners.

Biden, who himself owns two shotguns, again urged Congress this week to pass additional controls on what he describes as weapons of war being used on the streets or in schools.

However, such comments now appear to be more in hope than expectation.

The likelihood is that in the days and weeks ahead there will be further shootings like those seen in Nashville and Uvalde and Buffalo.

Reporters will again chase Republican politicians around the US Congress to ask about gun reforms.

The politicians will talk about thoughts and prayers and the president will once more call for a ban on high-powered weapons. Time will move on, as will the attention of the media. Families will be left to grieve and the depressing cycle will continue.