Republicans on Tuesday struggled to identify ways that Congress could help prevent mass shootings in America. Some even argued there was no point in government making the attempt.
“I don’t think this is a problem a law is going to fix by itself,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said.
HuffPost asked several GOP senators about possible government action two days after a gunman in Las Vegas killed at least 58 people and wounded more than 500 others ― the deadliest such attack in modern U.S. history.
Studies say mass shootings are becoming more frequent and deadly, so it’s likely only a matter of time before another bloody massacre spurs fresh calls for congressional action to curb gun violence. As Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) put it Tuesday on the Senate floor, “How many of these can you have before you say enough is enough?”
For some Republicans, though, mass shootings are “the price of freedom,” as former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly put it. For others, the answer lies in preventing people with mental health problems from buying guns.
“Mental health reform is the critical ingredient to making sure that we can try and prevent some of these things that have happened in the past,” House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin told reporters Tuesday.
Earlier this year, however, Republicans rescinded an Obama administration regulation that had made it tougher for the mentally ill to get a gun. They claimed the rule, put into place after the 2012 mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, unfairly impeded the Second Amendment rights of people with disabilities.
No GOP senators who spoke with HuffPost expressed support for broader gun control measures, such as limiting magazine capacity or banning assault weapons.
Some sounded resigned about their inability to address gun violence ― which kills over 30,000 people a year.
“Sadly, violence will always be part of our lives,” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said.
“People are going to have to take steps in their own lives to take precautions to protect themselves,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota.
Here’s how the GOP senators responded to the question of what Congress can do to prevent mass shootings:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.)
“I think it’s particularly inappropriate to politicize an event like this, it just happened in the last day-and-a-half. It’s entirely premature to be discussing legislative solutions, if any.
“We’re in the middle of an investigation. We’ll see what that reveals. And at the end of that will be an appropriate time to discuss it. In the meantime, our priority is on tax reform, as my colleagues have indicated, we’re going to press ahead with that in the Budget Committee this week.”
“The facts are still developing, but it appears this was a crazed madman and sadly violence will always be part of our lives. But it underscores the need for more effective law enforcement and more effective measures to prevent domestic terrorism. And I expect in the coming days the facts will develop as to whether there were warning signs that should have led to further investigation of this individual before he carried out this horrific attack.”
“I don’t know, I mean, let’s find out, see if you can establish a motive. I mean, I don’t know why he did it. Any laws he broke, any loopholes and laws he took advantage of? Other than that I’m just at a loss. I don’t think this is a problem a law is going to fix by itself.”
Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.)
“I don’t know if legislation can [prevent mass shootings]. We cry that everything is a government problem and a government solution. But everything is not. That was a terrible thing that happened, the worst thing I’ve ever seen. But from what I read and seen on TV ... the man didn’t have a prior record, had no problems, [passed] a background check [when buying weapons], had no apparent obstacles to him.
“So, we’re dealing with the human condition, sometimes it doesn’t manifest itself very well. I don’t know why anybody would want to kill anybody like that. But I don’t know that the government can ― I tell you what we could do, is more checks in hotels, you know, just like it’d be hard to take a gun [into Congress] because people are checking. I suppose, in the future when they build new buildings, they’re going to have to think about security.”
HuffPost: Do you want metal detectors on the doors of casinos?
“That’s up to them, but I would think of any way to protect my clientele.”
Sen. Johnny Isakson (Ga.)
“First of all, you never accept the fact that you can [prevent mass shootings]. So I’m not even going to address answering that question. The second thing you ask is what you can do to help prevent them, and that’s why we have a Congress and I’m on my way to debate those issues. But you should never accept the fact that you can do it.”
Sen. Cory Gardner (Colo.)
“I just met with a group of Colorado behavioral health providers, something that has had great bipartisan success ― working on mental health needs and finding out what’s happened. Look, I mean, we need information on what happened in this terrible tragedy in Las Vegas, I think, to figure out really what can be done.”
Sen. Pat Roberts (Kan.)
“This is a rather unique situation. I don’t know all the facts and I don’t think we will for the next couple of days until we figure out what was behind all this. This is not your typical person ― to do something as heinous as this. At least today, it’s my understanding, that every firearm that he used is already illegal.”
Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.)
“I don’t know, I really don’t. I’m all for looking at reasonable ways of ending mass killings. We always jump to something that has nothing to do with the event that just occurred.” ...
“I’m like everyone else in our nation, I’d like to see it stop. ... I’m not in any way indicating that I know of some change that needs to happen, but hopefully the Judiciary Committee and Homeland Security Committee hearings will enlighten us. It always seems that what comes out legislatively had nothing to do with the last incident. It’s an impetus for something to happen that’s unrelated. I do hope we’ll have a fulsome discussion about the threat that we have. You can imagine this happening at a [Southeastern Conference college] football game. I know nothing about the background of this person, or what it was that drove him to do this. But it’s a problem in a country that has the freedoms like we have, and so many mass events like that one was. I don’t have the solution but I’d be more than glad to listen to some.”
“It sounds like he used conversion kits and other things, you know, to make these weapons more lethal. ... We’ll look at the facts when we get them all in here. I think that all of us want to do everything we can to prevent tragedies like that from happening again. You know, it’s an open society. And when somebody does what he wants to do, it’s going to be hard to prevent anything. But I think people are going to have to take steps in their own lives to take precautions to protect themselves and in situations like that, you know, try to stay safe. As somebody said: get small.”
CORRECTION: No GOP senators who spoke with HuffPost expressed support for broader gun control measures such as banning assault weapons ― not automatic weapons as initially written.