Michael A. Cohen

Are we ever going to have that talk about guns?

FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2013, file photo, an employee of North Raleigh Guns demonstrates how a "bump" stock works at the Raleigh, N.C., shop. The gunman who unleashed hundreds of rounds of gunfire on a crowd of concertgoers in Las Vegas on Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, attached what is called a "bump-stock" to two of his weapons, in effect converting semiautomatic firearms into fully automatic ones. (AP Photo/Allen Breed, File)
Allen Breed/AP
An employee of North Raleigh Guns demonstrates how a bump stock works at the Raleigh, N.C., shop.

In the days after 58 people were killed and nearly 550 wounded in the worst mass shooting in modern American history, Republicans had a uniform response: an offering of thoughts and prayers to the victims but the admonition that it was simply soon to talk about new gun control measures.

“We’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes by,” said President Trump.

It’s “premature to be discussing legislative solutions,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.


Now, 25 days after the Las Vegas shooting, it seems that the time to talk about gun control is never.

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Even in a country that has become largely inured to the daily drumbeat of gun violence, the speed with which America has moved on from the Las Vegas massacre is remarkable.

At least in the wake of Sandy Hook, there was a president and members of Congress — both Democrats and Republicans — who sought to push forward with gun control legislation to strengthen background checks for gun buyers.

Four and a half years later, trying and failing would be a significant improvement. In the wake of Las Vegas, the brief talk about banning bump stocks that allow gun owners to convert semi-automatic weapons has largely dissipated.

It seems clear that congressional Republicans have no plans to bring such legislation up for a vote.


This week, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy introduced a bill toughening background check legislation, but he acknowledges that there’s no chance the legislation will advance or even get a floor vote.

All of this stands in remarkably stark contrast to reams of public opinion polling, which clearly suggest that Americans want Washington to do something about guns.

Nearly two-thirds back tougher gun control laws, with even a majority of Republicans supporting such efforts. Nearly nine out of 10 want to see required background checks and more than 70 percent support banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

If there is some sliver of optimism to be found on gun control, it’s that while Washington remains indifferent to America’s gun violence crisis, there are signs of progess on the state level. As Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, a gun control advocacy group, counter-intuitively pointed out to me, “2017 was a very good for gun safety advocates.” Laws preventing those accused of or convicted of domestic violence from owning guns have passed in seven states this year, bringing to 23 the number of states that have enacted such regulations. Considering the link between domestic violence and gun homicide, this is the kind of reform that can save lives. In addition, Watts notes that permit-less carry laws were killed in 20 out of 22 states; laws to allow guns in school were blocked in 17 out of 18 states and in the immediate wake of Las Vegas, a congressional effort that would have allowed for greater use of silencers has been indefinitely shelved.

Still, when one considers the scope of the gun violence crisis in America — more than 30,000 deaths every year and approximately 90 Americans killed every single day by a gun — one might hope for more than incremental efforts. To even argue about something as dangerous and unnecessary as bringing firearms into middle schools and elementary schools is indication of how divorced from reality America’s gun control debates have become.


That Congress — with the backing of the NRA — remains stubbornly defiant in its opposition to even the most anodyne regulations on gun ownership is compelling evidence that they believe there is no political price to be paid for opposing gun control legislation. And they’re probably right.

After all, it’s not just Republicans who have remained silent after Las Vegas. Many Democrats have moved on to the next challenge as well. It’s understandable when you consider the daily stream of outrages emanating from the White House. But that Americans can put such a wanton display of mass violence in the rear view mirror — and neither demand nor receive a response from federal officials — is a depressing reminder of how incapacitated and powerless we’ve become to the scourge of gun violence.

There will be another Sandy Hook, another Orlando, and another Las Vegas, and if the last three and a half weeks are any indication, that next tragedy — like the ones before — will be met with a national shrugging of shoulders.

Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.