WASHINGTON — More than 200 mayors, including two anguished by mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, are urging the Senate to return to the Capitol to act on gun safety legislation amid criticism that Congress is failing to respond to back-to-back shootings that left 31 people dead.
In a letter Thursday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, the mayors wrote, “Our nation can no longer wait for our federal government to take the actions necessary to prevent people who should not have access to firearms from being able to purchase them.”
The mayors urged the Senate to vote on two House-passed bills expanding background checks for gun sales that passed that chamber earlier this year. It was signed by El Paso, Texas, Mayor Dee Margo; Dayton, Ohio, Mayor Nan Whaley and others where mass shootings have occurred, including Orlando and Parkland, Fla., Pittsburgh and Annapolis, Md.
In South Carolina, the mayors of Columbia and Sumter were the only ones who had signed it as of early Thursday afternoon.
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg was not aware of the letter until later in the day, city spokesman Jack O’Toole said, “but as a supporter of stronger background checks and a member of the sponsoring organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, he added his name when he saw it late today.”
Earlier this week, Tecklenburg posted his thoughts on Facebook following the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings. His post called for better opportunities for young people, more resources for mental health, and fewer legal loopholes for disturbed individuals who want to get their hands on a gun.
“So, today, once again, let us bury our dead, bind up our wounded, comfort our friends and loved ones,” he wrote. “Then, tomorrow, let us come together as the good and decent country we are, and get about the business of changing the culture that’s given us these tragedies.”
“There is no worse thing that can happen to a city,” Whaley said of the weekend shooting that killed nine people in Dayton. “We cannot allow this tragic event to fade from our memories without taking action. Politics has stood in the way of action for too long, and I can tell you politics seems very petty when it is your friends and neighbors who are injured or dead.”
McConnell said Thursday he wants Congress to consider legislation to expand federal background checks and other gun violence measures when lawmakers return in the fall.
The Republican leader told a Kentucky radio station that President Donald Trump called him Thursday morning and they talked about several ideas. The president, he said, is "anxious to get an outcome and so am I."
Republicans have resisted expanding background checks, but face enormous pressure to do something in the aftermath of the mass shootings..
"Background checks and red flags will probably lead the discussion," the Senate leader said, referring to legislation that allows authorities to seize firearms from someone deemed a threat to themselves or others.
Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown made a personal plea to Trump during his visit to “call on Sen. McConnell to bring the Senate back in session this week, to tell the Senate he wants the background checks bill that has already passed the House.”
The politics of gun violence are difficult for Republicans, including McConnell, who would risk losing support as he seeks reelection in Kentucky if he backed restricting access to firearms and ammunition. Other Republicans, including those in Colorado, Maine and swing states, also would face difficult votes, despite the clamor for some changes to gun laws.
“In Congress, we’re trying to come up with some answers,” said Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn, who also is up for reelection, said after donating blood in El Paso.
In Kentucky, where McConnell is recuperating from a shoulder fracture sustained in a weekend fall, activists have been demonstrating at his home and protesting at his downtown Louisville office.
In the meantime, Trump continues to say there’s “great appetite” for background-checks legislation.
But that is not the case, for now.
Instead, Republicans are trying to build support for more modest measures, including so-called red-flag bills from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., that would allow friends and family members to petition authorities to keep guns away from people deemed a threat to themselves or others. But those efforts are also running into trouble from conservatives, who worry about due process and infringing on gun owners’ rights.
GOP senators are also considering changes to the existing federal background-checks system, modeled on the so-called “fix-NICS” law signed last year that improved the National Instant Criminal Background Check system, as well as strengthening penalties for hate crimes.
While many of those proposals have bipartisan support, Democrats are unlikely to agree to them without consideration of the more substantive background-checks bill.
“We Democrats are not going to settle for half-measures so Republicans can feel better and try to push the issue of gun violence off to the side,” Schumer said Wednesday.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who, along with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., is pushing a bill to expand background checks, said Trump’s support will be the determining factor in whatever gets done.
“At this point in time leadership comes from President Trump,” Manchin said.