Since Friday's horrific shootings in Newtown, Conn., supporters of gun control have felt the wind at their backs. But beneath the signs of change, one inconvenient truth remains: Unless Republicans come around, little can be done. And so far, that’s not happening.
The gun control debate in Washington has unquestionably been re-energized by the massacre, which took the lives of 20 children and 6 adults. President Obama has reportedly asked Cabinet members for ideas on curbing gun violence, and tapped Vice President Joe Biden to lead the effort. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has said she’ll introduce legislation to reinstate a ban on assault weapons.
And even some one-time gun-rights backers, like Senators. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Mark Warner, D-Va., have said the Newtown killings have made them rethink the issue. "Seeing the massacre of so many innocent children has changed everything," said Manchin on msnbc's Morning Joe.
But among Republicans, there’s been far less movement.
In perhaps the most significant comments from a Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said Tuesday he'd consider "measures that would keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill." A day earlier, Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia said guns should be “on the table” for discussion, along with video games and mental health. And Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa suggested a blue-ribbon commission of “all stakeholders.”
That’s about as far as it’s gone. More common has been the response from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who has dodged the issue. "Right now is the moment for prayer and supporting the families of Newtown,” his office told the AP Monday. “There will be time to debate policy in the weeks ahead."
Echoing the approach taken by the NRA, whose normally active social media presence has gone dark since Friday, GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell non-responded to a question about gun control on Monday with 16 seconds of stony silence.
Most of those GOPers who are talking say they haven't changed their minds.
"There are just evil people in the world,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina. There's nothing you're going to do to prevent evil from occurring."
"Guns aren't the problem; sick people are,” said Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas.
Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said Monday gun laws "are not going to change in the near future."
Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said: "The problem is not with the gun, but with the person pulling the trigger."
And Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, told Fox News that more, rather than fewer, guns would help prevent future Newtowns.
Of course, there are some gun-control steps that President Obama can take using his executive authority. But real, lasting measures that might significantly reduce gun violence—banning assault weapons or large-capacity magazines, requiring background checks for all gun sales, for instance—can only be achieved via congressional legislation.
That gives the GOP an effective veto on the issue. And for all the signs of a lively new debate over gun control, there’s little reason to think they’re considering not using it.