(The Hill) – If there’s one thing members of both parties agree on it is this: Congress is unlikely to pass significant gun control legislation, even after two shocking mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y. and Uvalde, Texas that targeted Black people and children.
Lawmakers are engaging in conversations behind the scenes on a menu of smaller measures — including red flag laws that would keep guns out of the hands of individuals perceived as a danger to themselves and others and expanded background checks.
But there is deep cynicism that efforts will extend beyond that, even after 19 children and two educators were killed in an elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas — one week after another shooter attacked shoppers at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo. There are a number of reasons for the pessimism, most of which go back decades.
The first is the filibuster in the Senate. Assuming all Democrats are on board, 10 Republicans will be needed to overcome a legislative filibuster — a high bar in a politically polarized nation. The filibuster over the course of American history has held up a litany of issues — including civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s. Sixty votes are still needed to pass significant legislation through the Senate, and Democrats do not have 50 votes on their side of the aisle to “go nuclear” and end the filibuster on their own.
Money and lobbying are also playing an influence. Democrats say Republicans remain tied down by the gun lobby and firearm manufacturers. “The gun manufacturers and their friends kind of have a lock on Republicans,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told The Hill when asked about the largest impediments to Congress passing gun legislation.
He said he believes gun manufacturers are “driving interest groups and activists,” adding “I think their financial muscle is perverting our politics.”
“[The] gun lobby has backed, and some would say bought, a lot of opposition to gun violence prevention,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told The Hill. “They are less powerful than they were but they still have the fear factor. They can intimidate.”
The NRA has lobbied hard for decades to stop even narrow restrictions on guns; the group’s leader on Friday called gun ownership a “fundamental human right.”
The NRA’s grip on some GOP members of Congress appears to remain intact despite its financial prestige waning over the years. The pro-gun lobbying group has been embroiled in a legal battle with the New York State attorney general for years, which has in-part chipped away at its monetary resources. Other pro-firearm organizations have picked up steam amid the NRA’s decline.
But the group’s continued clout was reflected in part by the GOP heavyweights who attended its annual meeting on Friday even after the horrific shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
The speakers included former President Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R). Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) pulled out of his in-person speech to instead hold a press conference in Uvalde. He did, however, address the group through a prerecorded video.
The nation’s very political system is another hurdle. In the House, most members are more worried about their primary opponent than their rival from the other party in the general election. Gerrymandered districts have only made that matter worse.
The fact that it is an election year is another problem. Republicans who might consider a shift on guns given the tragedies in Buffalo and Uvalde would have to worry about a conservative challenge, in a number of cases, very soon.
“My Republican colleagues, many of them, live in fear of a primary. And what’s behind the primary? Often the gun lobby,” Blumenthal said.
There are also real differences between the parties over the substance of gun control legislation. “The Constitution, Second Amendment is a big impediment. And a lot of us believe in the Constitution, I hope you do too,” retiring Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said when asked what is preventing gun measures from passing.
He told reporters he has “had guns all my life, I’ve never misused them,” adding “I’d hope nobody would, but some will.”
“What you try to do when you deal with a problem as horrific as this is strike a balance between respecting people’s constitutional rights and public safety,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told reporters. “And we do that in many other contexts, but none more important than this.”
Sweeping gun reforms — such as bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines — are as a result very unlikely in the current climate, even one transformed by tragedy.
A handful of Republicans do appear open to striking a deal this time around on narrower issues. But the GOP is putting more of a focus on measures to “harden” security at schools and address mental health, signaling little interest in big gun reforms.