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The recent mass shooting in Texas, the deadliest in a church in US history, would normally have started the Dems on a rant calling for more gun control.
The facts surrounding the incident, however, have made it almost impossible to politicize, even for experienced anti-gun lobbyists.
The shooter, Devin Kelly, simply should not have been able to buy a gun. He had been convicted of domestic abuse, and this should have been flagged on the National Criminal Information Center database.
The fact that he was still able to buy a gun raises questions about the competence of the USAF, certainly. However, it is not evidence that we need new gun laws: we just need to enforce the ones we already have.
For GOP Senators, these facts represent a chance to show that they are reacting to the massacre, an opportunity normally denied them after a mass shooting. House Speaker Paul Ryan, told reporters on Tuesday that officials should have enforced existing rules.
“How about enforcing the laws we’ve got on the books?,” he said, “This man should not have gotten a gun, you know why? Because he was a domestic abuser. We have laws on the books that says if you’re a domestic abuser you’re not supposed to own a gun.”
In a further step, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn announced that he was introducing a bill that would “encourage” federal agencies to flag convictions on the national database. What form this “encouragement” will take remains vague, but are unlikely to extend to criminalizing employees of these agencies.
Devin Kelly was convicted by a military court for abusing his stepson, who was an infant at the time. The conviction should have been entered on the NCIC, but was not. This has raised awkward questions for the Air Force, whose systems for dealing with offenders are now coming under increased scrutiny.
Typically, Dems are arguing that the incident proves the need for more gun control. Given the facts of the case, however, they have found it difficult to justify extending gun restrictions. Unlike the Las Vegas shooting, where there was a clear “problem” as far as the left were concerned – bump stocks – the events in Texas point to incompetence rather than a failing system.
Strangely, this means that the political response to the massacre has been unusually bi-partisan. It’s worth noting, of course, that many of the GOP senators now urging greater adherence to existing rules voted against these same rules. However, now they are on the books both sides of the house are united in calling for them to be properly implemented.
Senator Tim Scott, a Republican representing South Carolina, summed up his party’s position in an interview with USA Today: “We should have a total and thorough examination to make sure that we are capturing all folks in all of our branches … and yes, I’m supportive of that”.