Democrats control the White House and Capitol Hill, the National Rifle Association is broke and discredited, and the grim rhythm of American mass shootings has resumed after an all too brief pandemic lull. Congress’ inaction on the violence, however, springs eternal.
A shooting at a San Jose light rail yard Wednesday morning was the latest in a series of horrific firearm-assisted slaughters of Americans in workplaces, businesses and homes in recent months. In March alone, 10 people were shot to death in a Colorado supermarket; eight, including six Asian women, were killed at three Atlanta area spas; and four, among them a 9-year-old boy, died at a Southern California office complex. Now nine victims are reported to have been killed and more injured at the Valley Transportation Authority facility near downtown San Jose, making it the Bay Area’s worst such outburst of violence on record.
While such multiple shootings draw disproportionate attention, they represent a tiny fraction of the country’s gun violence. Despite last year’s relative absence of headline-grabbing armed attacks, nearly 20,000 Americans died in gun homicides, the most in at least two decades. Even more took their own lives with firearms, and about twice as many were injured.
Reports of the killing in San Jose emerged as Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee began to excoriate David Chipman, President Biden’s choice to lead the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. His crime? Having the common sense to suggest that we ought to do something about all of this.
It’s an understandably uncontroversial view among Americans, more than 80% of whom reliably support universal background checks in public opinion polls. Biden called on lawmakers to close loopholes in the background check system during his first address to a joint session of Congress last month. And yet a bill to achieve just that, championed by Democratic North Bay Rep. Mike Thompson, passed the House during that violent month of March only to stall again in the Senate, this time despite a Democratic majority.
A few House Republicans supported Thompson’s bill, and bipartisan negotiations between Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, reportedly have made progress. But the bill needs 10 Republican votes in the Senate, more than it got in the House, to overcome a filibuster in a chamber that is already a graveyard of similar efforts. The best hope of redeeming this record of failure comes down to Democrats realizing that the Senate’s hoary traditions are less important than the next 20,000 senseless losses.
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The editorial positions of The Chronicle, including election recommendations, represent the consensus of the editorial board, consisting of the publisher, the editorial page editor and staff members of the opinion pages. Its judgments are made independent of the news operation, which covers the news without consideration of our editorial positions.