WASHINGTON — Less than two weeks after Congress passed landmark legislation to curb gun violence, Democratic lawmakers reacted in horror and anger after a gunman opened fire at a Fourth of July parade in the Chicago suburbs, killing six and injuring dozens more.
Many Democrats demanded that Congress enact more aggressive gun control measures but stopped short of calling for specific policy changes. A few said they wanted to see a ban on semi-automatic weapons or raising the age to purchase them.
Yet it’s unlikely Republicans are willing to return to the negotiating table so soon after passing the first meaningful gun reforms in three decades — especially during an election year when the GOP needs its conservative base to turn out at the polls.
“I think yesterday’s shooting is another example of what the problem is,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday after a speech in Paducah, Ky. “The problem is mental health and these young men who seemed to be inspired to commit these atrocities.”
Democrats agreed to include millions in funding for mental health resources in their latest bipartisan package but insist the problem is guns.
Mass shootings won’t stop “until more members of Congress expand their definition of freedom to include freedom from massacre by semi-automatic weapon,” Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., told NBC News on Tuesday.
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., agreed that Congress needs to take further action to end mass shootings.
“As families come together to celebrate America, they are gunned down in the scourge of gun violence plaguing it. This is a tragedy,” Markey said in a tweet. “The Bipartisan Gun Law was a first step, but Congress must do more to stop this deadly epidemic and save lives.”
“Schools. Malls. Offices. Churches. Mosques. Synagogues. Nightclubs. Concerts. Grocery stores. Movie theaters. Fourth of July parades,” tweeted Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. “The gun lobby and its Republican puppets have robbed Americans of our sense of safety in just about every place imaginable.”
Illinois lawmakers have been trying to address rampant gun violence that has plagued the city of Chicago for decades. But they said they were shocked by the nature of this particular mass shooting: Authorities believe the suspected gunman was perched on top of a building as he opened fire on paradegoers and participants who had gathered for Highland Park’s annual Fourth of July festivities. The sniper fired more than 70 rounds, police said. A person of interest, 21-year-old Robert E. Crimo III, was taken into custody in nearby Lake Forest, Illinois, according to officials. The weapon used in the shooting is believed to be a “high-powered rifle,” similar to an AR-15, that was purchased legally.
Police said they are reviewing videos that Crimo posted on his social media accounts, including some depicting mass murder.
Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., who represents Highland Park, said he and his campaign team were getting ready to march in the parade when the shooting began. He said no one on his team was injured.
“My condolences to the family and loved ones; my prayers for the injured and for my community; and my commitment to do everything I can to make our children, our towns, our nation safer. Enough is enough!”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called the shooting “horrific,” while Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., described it as “absolutely terrifying” for the families who experienced it.
“Last month, Congress proved that bipartisan compromises on gun safety are possible. Today proved that we can’t stop there,” Duckworth said in a statement on Monday. “We have to do more to keep our communities safe. We have to pass additional commonsense reforms that wide majorities of Americans are crying out for — that 6 Illinoisans can no longer cry out for. I won’t let their memories be forgotten.”
Just last month, Democrats and Republicans came together to pass sweeping gun legislation in response to mass shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
The bill, which President Joe Biden signed into law, provides federal grants to incentivize states to pass “red flag” laws; enhances background checks to include juvenile records for gun buyers under age 21; offers more funding for mental health programs and school security; and closes the “boyfriend loophole” by keeping guns out of the hands of unmarried dating partners who’ve been convicted of abuse
Addressing the Highland Park shooting, McConnell said the new law "targeted the problem. In that particular instance, it was school safety and mental health.”
“We have got to figure out some way to identify these troubled young men and it’s very complicated,” McConnell said. “Because after every one of these shootings there are people who say ‘oh you know, I thought he was pretty strange. I wish I notified somebody about it.’”
Because it’s early in the Highland Park investigation, it’s unclear if the shooting could have been prevented by certain provisions in the Bipartisan Gun Law. The four lawmakers who negotiated the deal — Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., John Cornyn, R-Texas, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C. — have been relatively quiet in the wake of the Highland Park shooting.
Murphy characterized his bill as the first step in broader gun reforms but did not lay out specifics in a video posted on Twitter on Monday.
“I’m confident that the bill we passed a week and a half ago is going to save lives; it will make a difference. But it’s only the beginning," Murphy said.
"We have now broken the back of the gun lobby. ... Today is a reminder that we still have a long road to travel."
Some Democratic candidates called on congressional lawmakers to do more to stop mass shootings. Senate hopeful John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, the current lieutenant governor, said Washington needs to “take on the NRA by shutting down and prosecuting gun dealers whose weapons routinely wind up at crime scenes."
He also demanded that Senate Democrats scrap the filibuster and immediately pass universal background checks for all gun sales and a ban on military-grade assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
“We cannot and must not become numb to this ever-increasing gun violence,” Fetterman said.