Two Coloradans seeking the Democratic presidential nomination called for the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate to take up gun-control legislation that has been languishing for months, in the wake of two mass shootings in Texas and Ohio within 24 hours that left at least 30 people dead.
“My thoughts and prayers are with all the families of the victims, with anyone affected — but they don’t go far enough,” former Gov. John Hickenlooper said Sunday outside the state Capitol.
“At this point, every American should be calling their congressional representatives and say, ‘All right, the House [of Representatives] passed a bill on universal background checks. Why hasn’t the Senate taken that up now?’ Take that as a starting point,” Hickenlooper said, referring to a bill passed in February by the Democratic-controlled House with Republican support.
HR 8, known as the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, would establish requirements for background checks for firearms transfers between certain individuals. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has blocked the legislation since it was sent over from the House.
McConnell responded to the second shooting with a tweet calling the news “sickening.”
“Two horrifying acts of violence in less than 24 hours. We stand with law enforcement as they continue working to keep Americans safe and bring justice,” McConnell tweeted.
Hickenlooper said he would “figure out the swing votes, the Republicans who are not scared of the NRA and would be willing to push back on Mitch McConnell” and encourage them to demand the Senate leader schedule a vote on gun legislation. He said he would also “go to Kentucky and talk to the people who elected Mitch McConnell and say, ‘You guys are keeping us from having universal background checks, which 92% of Americans support. You guys need to do a little better job on your U.S. senator.’”
Hickenlooper also encouraged states to follow Colorado’s lead by passing their own gun-control legislation.
“I would encourage more states to take action, take things into your own hands and do universal background checks,” he said. “For the life of me, I don’t see why every state doesn’t do it and force the federal government to do it.”
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, the other Colorado Democrat running for president, called on McConnell to cancel the Senate’s August recess so that lawmakers can vote on what Bennet termed “common-sense gun safety legislation.”
“We cannot sit idly by,” Bennet said in an email. “There are common-sense solutions that the vast majority of Americans support that would make a real difference. We have to demand action and hold our leaders accountable at the ballot box if they fail.”
Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in a statement issued Sunday afternoon called it “heartbreaking to see more senseless violence within 24 hours” and expressed his gratitude to law enforcement officials in Dayton “and all the first responders for their work to keep Americans safe.”
Added Gardner: “Based on information from law enforcement, the shooter in El Paso was motivated by xenophobia and this is a case of domestic terrorism. There’s no place for bigoted white supremacy in our nation.”
Authorities said the shooting in the border town of El Paso was being investigated as domestic terrorism and a hate crime after the discovery of a an online “manifesto” officials suspect was posted by the alleged shooter that boasted his “attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Hickenlooper said in an interview that President Donald Trump — whose rhetoric labelling immigration at the southern border an “invasion” has come under increasing fire since the El Paso shooting — should denounce the white supremacist ideology embraced by the alleged shooter.
“I think the president of the United States, if there are strong indications that his tacit approval — almost encouragement in some cases — has been emboldening, making some of these white supremacists feel that they should act, that he should clearly draw a line and say, ‘That is not OK, that’s not what I want, that’s not what I believe, that’s 180 degrees away from what I believe,’ and no person in America should think of perpetrating a mass killing for any reason,” Hickenlooper told Colorado Politics.
On social media, Colorado’s Democratic House members echoed Hickenlooper and Bennet in denouncing the attacks and the Senate’s inaction.
U.S. Rep. DeGette tweeted: “Enough is enough. We need to protect our communities from the threat of gun violence. We must get these assault weapons off our streets and ban high-capacity magazines NOW!”
“Two shootings in 24 hours. Over 29 dead,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse. “We simply cannot wait any longer for meaningful action to end this epidemic. The Senate MUST step up to pass the common-sense reforms we passed in the House and take the first step to address the gun violence crisis.”
After saying “Here’s what happened this week in America” and enumerating the casualties in Saturday’s shootings and the July 28 mass shooting at a garlic festival in Gilroy, Calif., U.S. Rep. Jason Crow addressed McConnell directly in a tweet: “We cannot accept this as the new normal. The House passed common-sense reforms, now the Senate must take action.”
U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter said in a tweet Sunday: “The racism, hatred & violence must stop. It starts w/inclusive, non-discriminatory rhetoric & serious reforms to our gun laws. The ppl of CO know this type of devastation & heartbreak too well & I will continue to do everything I can to ensure no community experiences it again.”
By Sunday at 7 p.m., Colorado’s House Republicans — U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton, Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn — had yet to issue statements responding to the shootings or weigh in on social media. Their congressional offices didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Kristina Cook, chairwoman of the Denver Republican Party, commented on the shootings in the party's Monday email newsletter, saying, "Voices from all perspectives [are] pinning blame on their favorite boogeyman, immediate calls for more gun control, endless speculation on the shooters’ motives – all in the absence of the real evidence we won’t see until the police finish their investigations. The reality is that those who did the shooting were individuals, acting for their own reasons. But they did not do so in a vacuum."
She added: "The reactions I’ve seen on Facebook have all missed the obvious: the rise in mass shootings directly corresponds to what has become a catastrophic breakdown of our communities and our neighborhood bonds, isolating us from one another. The result is that our society is suffering from a deep hopelessness that peaceful conversations about important issues cannot be had."
She said Republicans "are the last line of defense against that hopelessness. It is our policies and our values that can heal this situation."