On Monday, just hours after a man on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel opened fire with an arsenal of firearms onto a crowd of country-music fans in the deadliest mass shooting in American history, Seattle Weekly received two statements from the King County Council.
As befits a nominally nonpartisan council, the words “Republican” and “Democrat” did not appear in either, but the partisanship of the two statements was immediately apparent. One was signed by the six Democrats on the Council—Joe McDermott, Claudia Balducci, Larry Gossett, Dave Upthegrove, Rod Dembowski, and Jeanne Kohl-Welles. The other was signed by the three Republicans—Peter von Reichbauer, Reagan Dunn, and Kathy Lambert. The Democrats’ statement called on Congress to act now to address gun violence in America. The Republicans’ statement asked for people to donate to the victims. The Democrats’ statement connected this shooting to previous mass killings in our recent past, namely the previous record-holder for a mass shooting, which took place 15 months ago in Orlando. The Republicans’ release made no such mention. The Democrats’ release ran five sentences long, the Republicans’ two.
Needless to say, the King County Council is not going to solve America’s gun-violence epidemic, especially when it comes to mass killings in which the killer uses assault-style weapons. That’s going to take federal action, and the Democratic statement says as much: “Failure to act at the Federal level continues to put King County, and every community in America, at risk—and this remains simply unacceptable.”
Yet the two statements are sadly indicative of how this conversation will likely proceed in the coming days and weeks: Democrats will call for action; Republicans will act like there’s nothing to talk about at all. The behavior of King County’s Republican councilmembers shows just how deep this GOP reticence runs when it comes to guns.
As is necessary to survive as a politician in these parts, none of the Republicans on the Council are what you’d call fire-breathing conservatives. Dunn is on record as being pro-choice; Lambert has an environmental streak; von Reichbauer has been a strong voice for light-rail expansion into South King County. Yet when it comes to gun control—following a shooting that, as of press time, has left 59 people dead and hundreds injured, in which the shooter used weapons he was able to purchase legally—none will sign on to even the vaguest statement calling for regulatory action on the federal level.
Such is the wall of Republican silence. The Trump administration has refused to discuss gun control following the shooting, saying now is not the time to talk politics. Similar dismissals have come from Republican House and Senate leadership. This argument, obviously, is baldly absurd. Republicans show no such reticence when tragedies tie into policy discussions that don’t involve firearms. For example, less than a day after the shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Trump took to Twitter to leverage the shooting in support of his anti-terrorism policies, citing the shooter’s possible ties to the Islamic State.
In fact, the only difference between these two scenarios is that while Trump’s terrorism policies would likely do little to nothing to prevent these kinds of tragedies, Democrats have a number of policy prescriptions that could. For example, Congress has failed to reinstate the ban on semiautomatic assault weapons, which lapsed in 2004. It now appears that the Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, legally purchased such a weapon, then modified it to act like a fully automatic weapon. The same expired law also banned magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. High-capacity magazines were a central component in Paddock’s act of murder.
There are other possible policies as well, some with less bearing on the Vegas shooting than others. But before we can even contemplate which policies are necessary, Republicans must break their silence and acknowledge that policies are necessary in the first place.
As displayed by the County Council statements, that could take a lot of work. The silence runs deep, at nearly every level of GOP leadership. Yet meeting that silence with silence is a recipe for the inevitable: yet more mass shootings, the next possibly worse than the last. Silence, then, is not an option. Not for us. And certainly not for our elected leaders.