'Congress' isn't blocking new gun laws — the GOP is
Obstructionist Republicans have been blocking common-sense gun laws for years, even as the laundry list of gun massacres continues to grow. The radical maneuver comes against overwhelming public support for Democrat-backed legislation. If ever there's been an example of an entire political party in America completely out of step with the country, this is it. So why does the press constantly inform news consumers that "Congress" is to blame for the lack of action, instead of Republicans?
That question became even more pressing in recent days, following the murder of 31 people during hate gun rampages in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, where gunmen toting AK-47s and AR 15s set out to kill as many civilians as possible. Democrats remain united in desperately wanting to pass new laws, while Republicans stand in the way. Yet "Congress" is being blamed.
"Despite frequent mass shootings, Congress has proved to be unable to pass substantial gun violence legislation, largely because of resistance from Republicans," the Associated Press reported in the wake of the recent tragedies. But no, it's not the fault of "Congress." It's the fault of Republicans, and there ought to be absolutely no confusion in the media. Americans are increasingly bewildered by the lack of legislative action on guns, and the press blaming "Congress" so simply gives the GOP a huge pass.
This happens constantly. "Congress rarely acts on gun control despite mass shootings," a CNN headline recently announced. "Congress has long struggled with addressing gun violence in America, even in the wake of mass shootings going back to Columbine in 1999," CNN reported. A Time headline lamented, "Why This Weekend's Tragedies Probably Still Won't Be Enough to Push Congress to Act on Gun Control." The magazine noted that "lawmakers in Washington have so far been unable to unify around a legislative fix." USA Today claimed "Congress has consistently rejected attempts to tighten gun control regulations in the aftermath of other mass shootings." And Politicostressed that, "after this weekend’s mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, pressure to reform gun laws has focused on Congress—and, as usual, Congress seems stymied about what to do."
See? "Congress," collectively, just can't figure out a path forward on guns, according to the press. This is categorically false—and everyone in the media knows it. Everyone knows it because the GOP has been proudly and radically obstructionist on gun laws for more than a decade. So why the blame game surrounding "Congress? Why not spell out precisely what's going on?
Note that this press charade has been going on for many years. Following the 2012 gun massacre at an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, President Barack Obama put the full weight of the White House behind trying to pass a background check bill. Despite the mass murder of children and teachers, Obama couldn’t get most Republican senators to budge. “There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it,” explained Sen. Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, who was one of just four Republicans who voted for the compromise bill. In the end, the gun bill's failure didn't spark much anger in the press.
What it did produce was endless commentary about how the gun vote was nearly entirely Obama's fault—how he didn't know how to use the levers of power inside Washington and remained hopelessly incapable of working across the aisle with honest brokers in the GOP. In the end, the background check failure was portrayed as a process story, and a process story that featured Obama as the big loser. Nine out of 10 Republican senators refused to support a bill that nine out of 10 Americans supported, but that was Obama'a fault?
Meanwhile today, the press seems overly anxious to portray Republicans as responding to criticism and standing poised to spring into action to help curb gun violence. "Republicans who have long resisted gun restrictions appear rattled," the New York Times stressed in a report that could identify a grand total of five Republican elected officials who seemed to suggest they were willing to supporting a relatively minor new gun safety law, a so-called "red-flag" bill which would give law enforcement the power to take away guns from people deemed to be dangerous by a judge.
Indeed, the narrative that Republicans "appear rattled" and will soon act decisively represents more fantasy than reality, and journalists ought to understand that over the last decade there is literally no common-sense gun legislation that Republicans, at the behest of the NRA, are willing to support. And that the minimal chatter this week among a very small handful of Republicans absolutely does not reflect the institutional strategy of the GOP regarding guns.
We just went through this GOP charade following the Parkland Florida, school gun massacre where 17 students and faculty members were murdered. Back then some Republicans, led by Donald Trump, initially and tentatively mouthed words of encouragement regarding gun safety laws, only to the have most bills completely shut down by the GOP-controlled Senate, after Trump met privately with NRA officials. Against that recent backdrop reporters are actually going to take seriously passive comments from Republicans about enacting new laws? The whole thing seems like a cruel Charlie Brown/Lucy exercise.
Yet a CNBC report this week simply typed up Trump's quote about supporting a background check bill without including any context regarding how last year he publicly supported the same initiative, only to recant everything.
Other crucial context that's often missing from news reports is just how staggeringly large and sweeping public support is in favor of news guns laws. "Most Americans support such efforts, polls show," noted the New York Times, massively downplaying the nearly universal support for background check bills sponsored by Democrats. It's virtually impossible to find a single public policy issue in this country that's as widely supported as gun reform, including background checks.
But that crucial fact often gets glossed over, as the press blames "Congress" for failing to act, instead of radical obstructionist Republicans.
Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.
This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.