Lafayette shooting sets off a familiar chain reaction across political spectrum

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Lafayette shooting sets off a familiar chain reaction across political spectrum” was written by Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington, for theguardian.com on Friday 24th July 2015 20.28 UTC

A mass shooting at a movie theater in Louisiana on Thursday set off a familiar chain reaction across the American political spectrum: the state’s Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, requested prayers for the victims and their families; gun control advocates renewed their calls for stricter gun laws; and gun rights supporters condemned what they viewed as the immediate politicization of a tragedy.

The response has become almost routine in a nation beleaguered by gun violence, but where political forces have stymied measures at both the federal and state level aimed at reining in firearm-related deaths and injuries. And as the dust settled in Louisiana on Friday morning, there was little indication the Lafayette shooting – almost three years to the date after the 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado – would be a catalyst for reform.

Asked about gun control in the aftermath of the shooting, Jindal, who is also running for president in 2016, said it was too soon to have that conversation.

“Let’s focus on the victims right now. Let’s focus on their recoveries,” he said. “There’ll be a time, I’m sure folks will want to jump into the politics of this. Now is not the time.”

Anti-gun violence groups argued that neither the timing nor the details had any bearing on the fundamental fact that steps must be taken to lift the cloud of gun violence that looms over Americans’ everyday lives.

“We know that two people were killed and nine others were injured while doing something all Americans should feel safe doing – watching a movie,” Sara Cusimano, a volunteer leader for the Louisiana chapter of the gun safety group Moms Demand Action, said in a statement. “It’s been just over three years since the Aurora theater shooting and it is incomprehensible that our community is feeling the same shock and horror that Coloradans experienced in 2012.”

“From Charleston to Chattanooga, to now right here in Louisiana – we’re tired of political leaders telling us that all we can do is pray in the wake of senseless tragedies like these. American moms have had enough – we demand that our political leaders take action to protect our communities from gun violence.”

Gun laws are especially loose in Louisiana, where suspected gunman John Russell Houser opened fire during a showing of the movie Trainwreck at the Grand 16 Theatre, killing two and wounding nine before turning the gun on himself and taking his own life. According to a report in Rolling Stone, the state’s average rate of gun deaths is 19.2 per 100,000.

Louisiana has enacted a constitutional amendment, endorsed by the National Rifle Association, that strengthened its residents’ right to bear arms and placed new limits on the legislature’s ability to pass restrictions on the concealed carry of weapons. The state also passed a law in 2014 prohibiting schools from gathering information on student gun ownership, and has one of the more lax background check systems in the country. The only step to strengthen gun laws came last year, when the legislature passed a bill that barred individuals with a domestic violence conviction from purchasing a gun.

While the details are not yet known of when, where and how Houser, a drifter from Alabama, purchased his weapons, law enforcement said Friday he was denied a concealed-carry permit in 2006 due to a domestic violence report and arson arrest.

Heath Taylor, the sheriff of Russell County, Alabama, told reporters on Friday that Houser was treated for mental illness in 2008 and 2009. “That should have stopped him from buying a weapon,” he said.

Alabama nonetheless also ranks among those with the weakest regulation of firearms, with a rate of gun deaths at 16.2 per 100,000. The state also does not have universal background checks for all handgun purchases, and convicted stalkers are not barred from buying a gun.

Vastly different gun laws across states are precisely why federal action is needed, according to the coalition of groups dedicated to reducing gun violence.

But the nation’s capital has shown itself to be even more resistant to gun reforms, despite an aggressive effort by Barack Obama to expand background checks after the 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The US Senate, led by Republicans, blocked a bill in 2013 that would have closed loopholes in the national background checks system, despite the backing of 90% of Americans.

The Senate also voted down an amendment at the time that would have made gun trafficking a federal crime. Gun control advocates have argued that the lack of a federal statute against gun trafficking has made it easier for shooters to obtain firearms in states with weaker laws, effectively bypassing the background check process in states where stricter regulations are in place.

Obama incidentally recorded an interview hours before the Lafayette shooting where he identified gun safety as the issue that frustrated him the most in his presidency.

“The issue of guns, that is an area where if you ask me where has been the one area where I feel that I’ve been most frustrated and most stymied it is the fact that the United States of America is the one advanced nation on Earth in which we do not have sufficient, commonsense gun-safety laws … even in the face of repeated mass killings,” Obama told the BBC.

While the president said he would continue to work toward reversing the trend, it’s unlikely that the Republican-controlled Congress would consider – let alone hold a vote on – any new gun laws. If anything, Republicans who control both the Senate and the House of Representatives have shown a willingness to weaken gun laws and stop in their tracks proposals aimed at enhancing gun safety.

Just last month, after the racially motivated shooting at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, Republicans in the House appropriations committee voted down a proposal that would have overturned a 20-year ban on funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to research gun violence.

The Obama administration, backed by medical groups across the country, has urged lawmakers to treat gun violence as a public health issue – but Republicans argued that it was not the role of the agency tasked with overseeing public health to wade into gun violence.

“I’m sorry, but a gun is not a disease. And guns don’t kill people – people do,” John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, said after the proposal was killed in committee.

“And when people use weapons in a horrible way, we should condemn the actions of the individual and not blame the action on some weapon. There are hundreds of millions of weapons in America. They’re there, and they’re going to be there. They are protected under the second amendment. But people who use weapons in an inappropriate or illegal way ought to be dealt with severely.”

Following the Charleston shooting, the co-authors of the failed background checks bill in 2013 – West Virginia senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, and Pennsylvania senator Pat Toomey, a Republican – said they hoped to revive their push. But both senators conceded what most Americans have come to accept as par for the course: The votes simply aren’t there.

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