As Country Mourns Boulder, Atlanta, Congress Discusses Gun Violence

State of Union
Andrew Harnik/AP
The Dome of the U.S. Capitol building is visible on the morning of the 2019 State of the Union, Tuesday, Feb. 5, in Washington.

During a Senate hearing on how to reduce gun violence Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin, chair of the Judiciary Committee, said in the days since he first announced the hearing, there have been two mass shootings in the country. 

Durbin was just finishing his opening remarks and questions Monday when he heard about the active shooter situation at the King Soopers in Boulder.

“I can’t change and amend my opening statement to keep up with it. It just keeps coming at us,” Durbin said. “We are numb to the numbers. Unless we are personally touched, it’s just another statistic. That has got to stop.”

Boulder and Atlanta join a long list of communities scarred by mass gun violence. And the Judiciary committee’s hearing is the latest in a long list of hearings Congress has held on the issue of gun violence over the decades, with little action.

And that’s exactly what Durbin called for: “a moment of action” on constitutional and ‘common sense’ ways to reduce gun violence.

But while the senators were unified in their expressions of sorrow over the mass shootings in Boulder and Atlanta, they were far apart on legislation to reduce gun violence.

Republicans and their witnesses objected to two House bills passed earlier this month to expand and strengthen universal background checks and close the so-called ‘Charleston loophole,’ which allows gun dealers to complete a sale after three days, even if a buyer’s background check has not been completed.

Several Senate Republicans described the House bills as too broad.

“Every time there’s a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said. “But what they propose — not only does it not reduce crime, it makes it worse.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Republican ranking member, said he hoped Democrats were “serious” about working together, noting that the House bills passed with only a handful of Republican support. “That is not a good sign that all voices and all perspectives are being considered,” he said.

Republicans argued gun control measures should not infringe on the rights of “responsible” gun owners or “law abiding” citizens.

President Joe Biden, however, in remarks on the Boulder shooting, urged Senators to quickly vote on the House bills. And Biden even went further, harkening back to his time in the Senate in the 1990s.

“We can ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines in this country,” Biden said. “When I was a Senator, it passed. It was a law for the longest time. And it brought down these mass killings. We should do it again.”

But even as Biden was pushing Senators to do more, there was acknowledgement that in an evenly split Senate, it would be difficult to find ten Republicans to support the measures, much less something as sweeping as banning an entire category of firearms.

“We still have serious political differences,” Durbin said at the end of the hearing. “The question is whether there is any middle ground…that we can reach. I want to try.”

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