The shooting of Gabrielle Giffords leaves members of Congress at a loss in more ways than one.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Jan. 12 2011 7:24 PM

The Solution: Do Nothing

The shooting of Gabrielle Giffords leaves members of Congress at a loss in more ways than one.

See Slate's complete coverage of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting and arrest of Jared Lee Loughner.

Representative Mike Pence. Click image to expand.
Rep. Mike Pence 

Barney Frank had left the floor of the House for a moment. Dozens of his fellow members were in the chamber saluting the work of their colleague Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the lives of six people who were killed when a gunman opened fire at one of her public meetings. I stopped Frank to ask him what he thought of the bill, soon to be introduced by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., to ban the high-capacity magazines that the alleged shooter had used.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

"The Republicans are in power and have generally opposed it," said Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat. I started to point out that some of Frank's fellow Democrats were arguing that Saturday's tragedy changed the legislative picture because it directly affected a member of the House. Frank politely interrupted me.

Advertisement

"I'm sorry, don't argue with me," he said. "Have you read what John Boehner said? Do you know who Republicans are? I'm telling you what they say, and you're going to give me a logical argument for it? There's always been a separate argument for how much you should be able to shoot without reloading. It doesn't interfere with your right to defend your home, or shoot a deer, or anything. But given the Republicans' religious view of this, I don't see how it's going to happen."

It's unusual that a political assassination attempt doesn't prompt a debate on gun control. On Monday, I reported that the most likely response from legislators to the Giffords shooting would happen in Arizona, not Washington, and it would be an expansion of gun rights, rather than a restriction of them: The theory is that armed citizens or legislators could act more quickly to stop a future Jared Lee Loughner. Sam Stein reports today that gun-control activists are looking past Congress, to the states, for any possible wins.

So maybe Frank was right. Maybe it was a waste of time for me to spend most of Wednesday asking members of Congress what sort of odds gun-control- or mental-health-funding legislation had. Some members tactfully explained that discussion like this could wait for another day. Others reacted to the question as if they'd been asked whether there should be stiffer regulations on what kind of shoes dragons are allowed to wear.

"I maintain, as Americans have believed since the American founding, that firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens make communities safer, not less safe," said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., a potential presidential candidate, of the magazine-ban legislation. When it was pointed out that citizens aren't allowed to own, say, machine guns, he criticized the attitude of a city where this could even be asked. "I think, particularly in Washington, D.C., the desire is to move immediately off and find something else to blame, and find some public policy that's wanting. I think what we had here was a despicable human being."

There are now at least four federal legislative responses to the Tucson tragedy: McCarthy's bill; a bill from Rep. Bob Brady, D-Pa., to criminalize some violent imagery; a bill from Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., to ban firearms within 1,000 yards of federal officials; and, paradoxically, a bill from Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert to allow members of Congress to carry their guns inside the Capitol. (It's legal in Texas!)

After some tragedies, there have been instant surges of support for legislation sold as preventative. The PATRIOT Act sailed through in 2001. After the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, McCarthy sponsored—and President Bush signed—legislation to connect mental-health records more closely to the National Instant Criminal Background Check system.

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Doublex

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

It’s Fine to Use Facebook to Serve People With Legal Papers, Court Rules

  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?