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Shawn Vestal: Another shooting, another wave of paralyzing congressional sorrow

Congress is super, super sad right now, you guys.

Their hearts are broken. Their grief is boundless. Their minds are reeling.

If you could all just give them a little space, a little room to heal, in this time of great congressional sorrow, that’d be great.

Senators and representatives in the congressional majority are very, very, very sad that a bunch of kids were shot to death in school again. Who wouldn’t be? They’re not monsters, after all. They’re so very sad, these congressional Republicans, that they very briefly interrupted their incessant tweeting about tax breaks to tweet about their heartbreak.

They’re also sad, some of them, that other sad people – even angry people – are wondering why in the world the congressional Republican majority can find no grain of moral courage to do something about our perpetual school shootings. They’re sad, these members of Congress, that some people are politicizing school shootings by wondering if we could somehow, maybe, just try to stop school shootings.

Even the president is sad. He’s sad that some of the people who lived around the Parkland mass murderer didn’t get their acts together and stop him.


And if there’s one thing we know about the sorrow of congressional Republicans it’s this: It will freeze them in place. Render them impotent, immobile, legislatively mute.

Though poised to be very, very sad again on Twitter in another day or two.

Try to have a little empathy, people. It’s a hard time in the halls of Congress. Yes, it’s sad for people in Parkland, Florida, but it’s no picnic in Congress either. Since we’re always just a day or two removed from the latest assault-rifle-peppering of a classroom, Congress is constantly in mourning.

Some people have a cynical view of persistent congressional inaction on gun violence – the legislative nada that follows school shooting after school shooting, the inability to consider limits on bump stocks or improving background checks or capping magazine sizes or banning assault weapons or researching gun violence or anything at all that might dilute, by even a tiny bit, the anything-goes political ideology that protects the ability of mass shooters to get the tools they need to murder schoolchildren.

Cynics might view this as the congressional majority serving its paymaster, the NRA. Cynics might believe Congress is “in the grip” of the NRA, or “bought and paid for” by the NRA, or “under the Svengali-like influence of the angry, defensive, idiotic, anti-social NRA.” Cynics might believe that Congress is just giving the john what he paid for.

Come on. Have a heart, cynics. Save the cheap shots for later, when these representatives and senators are not so heartbroken.

When this week’s news about the Parkland shooting came out, Rep. Dave Reichert – who has thrown his legislative heft into efforts to loosen concealed-carry laws and to protect gun owners from losing firearms in a bankruptcy – put out a statement that he found the shooting “impossible to comprehend.” Perhaps he hasn’t been following the news. He was, of course, very, very sad: “Today’s events in Parkland FL are tragic beyond belief.”

Similarly, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers – who once told the Seattle Times editorial board she was addressing gun violence by having more civility-building dinners with Democrats – tweeted out her prayers, and noted: “My heart is breaking for the Parkland community and today’s victims.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan noted sadly that the shooting was “pure evil.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, who represents the district where the shooting occurred, tweeted: “Today is that terrible day you pray never comes.”

Maybe he meant that terrible day that you only pray never comes – that you pray and do nothing else to prevent from ever coming. You think about it and pray about it and tweet about it, and then just … feel the deep, deep sadness, a sorrow so paralyzing that it makes it impossible to do anything but pray.

Well, pray and endorse the checks.

You certainly don’t do anything to make that terrible day never come, except maybe talk about mental illness and warning signs. This time of great congressional sadness, by the way, will be the only time these folks will talk about mental illness. If anyone, anywhere, ever proposes restricting gun ownership in cases with clear warning signs – such as a history of domestic abuse – well, they’ll vote no and return to prayer.

It may be tempting, as the current weekly cohort of students is buried, to wonder whether this will be the one, the final straw, the thing that finally moves these turtling weasels into action. It may be tempting to encourage them to act – to even demand it. To call upon them to do their jobs, or to at least adopt the modicum of decency that would involve shutting up when the rotten fruit of their inaction is served for breakfast once again, in Parkland and Vegas and Sutherland Springs and Marshall County, Kentucky, and – oh yeah – Freeman High School.

But that would be insensitive. It’s a sad, sad time for members of Congress right now.

Just let them grieve.

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