gun violence

Texas Shooting Makes the Case for Background Checks But the GOP’s Not Listening

Activists outside Mitch McConnell’s office in Kentucky. Photo: Luke Sharrett/Getty Images

The rifle used by a Texas man to carry out a horrific two-city mass shooting last weekend was purchased in a private transaction, allowing him to evade the FBI background check that had previously stopped him from buying a gun, according to the Associated Press.

On Tuesday, the Texas Department of Public Safety said in a statement that Seth Ator was prevented from purchasing a gun in January of 2014 for an undisclosed reason. But a law enforcement official told the AP the 36-year-old was turned down for a “mental health issue.”

Ator’s ability to turn to the private market and buy the gun he wasn’t able to get from a licensed gun dealer has caught the attention of many in Washington, especially the Democrats who’ve been clamoring for the passage of universal-background-check legislation. As House Democrat Adam Schiff asked on Twitter, “Could there be a more compelling case for why we need universal background checks?”

Democrats don’t think so, and so they’re pushing harder for the passage of their bill, which would require background checks on all gun transactions. The bill passed the House in February and has sat on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk ever since. The Texas shooting is increasing pressure on McConnell to take up the legislation, though it’s unlikely if that pressure will come from anyone McConnell will listen to.

In the likely-to-be-ignored camp is the Washington Post, which published Wednesday a full-page op-ed listing the names of hundreds of mass shooting victims and imploring McConnell to “do something.” Don’t expect McConnell to listen to Everytown for Gun Safety president John Feinblatt either. In a statement this week, Feinblatt called Ator’s ability to buy a gun “exhibit A of the deadliness of the background check loophole. This weekend alone, seven Americans are dead after a preventable mass shooting, because the Senate has refused to require background checks on all gun sales.” And there’s no chance McConnell cared that Chuck Schumer said this week, “If the House-passed background checks bill would have been signed into law, this tragedy could have been avoided. Leader McConnell — you have no excuse.”

So who is McConnell waiting to hear from? President Trump. On Tuesday, the Kentucky senator said he’ll allow a vote on the House bill if Trump signals his support for it. That’s unlikely.

While Trump’s position on the issue has flip-flopped in the aftermath of recent mass shootings, on Sunday he came out firmly against background checks. “For the most part, as strong as you make your background checks, they would not have stopped any of it,” he said. “So it’s a big problem. It’s a mental problem.”

That’s quite a departure from last month when, in the days following the mass shootings in Ohio and Texas, Trump seemed to endorse stronger background checks. “There’s a great appetite — and I mean a very strong appetite licensed gun for background checks,” he said. “And I think we can bring up background checks like we’ve never had before.”

He reversed course within weeks, citing the “very, very strong background checks” already in place. Now Trump and his administration are talking about measures such as expedited executions for convicted mass shooters and what Trump called “substantial reforms to our nation’s broken mental health system.” The White House is reportedly planning to release a piecemeal package of gun measures next week. Don’t expect expanded background checks to be among them.

Texas Shooting Makes the Case for Expanded Background Checks