Government leaders are calling for action following mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend.
The shootings left 30 people dead and about 50 wounded as of Monday afternoon, according to the Associated Press, and the carnage prompted exhortations from both of Pennsylvania’s U.S. senators to adopt legislation designed to reduce gun violence.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., renewed his call to expand background checks to all commercial firearm sales. In 2013, Toomey and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., proposed expanding background checks for all commercial gun sales while not requiring background checks for gun transfers between family members and explicitly reaffirming prohibition of a national gun registry.
The proposal would have made it unlawful for anyone other than licensed dealers, manufacturers or importers to transfer guns at gun shows or via Internet sales.
But the proposal failed in the Senate, and Toomey said Sunday that “it’s time for Congress to act to help keep our communities safer.”
“The mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton are the latest, horrific examples of the violent scourge that is gripping America,” Toomey said. “The perpetrators of these murders are cowards. We must do more to keep guns out of the hands of psychopaths.”
Toomey said he also agreed with a bipartisan “red flag” measure backed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that would allow families and law enforcement to get a court order to keep guns away from individuals deemed dangerous.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., joined fellow Democrats in demanding that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., call the Senate back into Washington, D.C., this week to debate and vote on universal background check legislation that was passed by the Democratic-majority House of Representatives in February.
“Enough. We don’t have to live like this,” Casey said Monday. “Politicians who refuse to take action to reduce gun violence are complicit in this carnage.”
The measure that passed the House in February would establish new background check requirements for firearm transfers between unlicensed individuals, prohibiting a firearm transfer between private parties unless a licensed gun dealer, manufacturer or importer first takes possession of the firearm to conduct a background check. The prohibition would not apply to certain firearm transfers, such as a gift between spouses.
Casey also alluded to the hateful ideology that seems to have motivated the alleged assailant behind the El Paso shooting. Federal authorities have indicated that they are handling the shooting as a domestic terrorism case after the emergence of a racist, anti-immigrant screed that the assailant appears to have posted online shortly before the shooting, according to the Associated Press.
Casey also noted testimony from FBI Director Christopher Wray to the Senate Judiciary Committee last month that “a majority of the domestic terrorism cases that we’ve investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence.”
Casey condemned President Donald Trump for “white nationalist rhetoric” and “engag(ing) in racism,” and called on Trump to condemn white nationalism and pledge an all-out government effort to confront white nationalist terrorism.
In an address on the mass shootings Monday, Trump said, “Hate has no place in America.”
“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” Trump said.
U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Peters Township, said Monday that his thoughts and prayers are with the victims, the victims’ families, and the people of El Paso and Dayton.
“I also want to thank the incredibly brave law enforcement officers who quickly responded to these tragedies,” Reschenthaler said. “Racism, white nationalism, and extremist violence have no place in our society, and our nation must work together to stop this radicalization.”
Gov. Tom Wolf repeated his call for federal and state action Monday, urging McConnell to reconvene the U.S. Senate immediately to consider the House’s background check legislation and demanding that the state House and Senate tackle gun access reform.
“In Pennsylvania, as long as it is a private sale, any person can still buy an assault rifle to commit a mass shooting without a background check,” Wolf said. “We still don’t have a ‘red flag’ law that could get these weapons away from someone who was known to be dangerous. These are just two of many bills that exist right now to reduce violence. All of these bills have been stalled for too long.”
The area’s two Roman Catholic diocesan bishops also weighed in on the shootings.
Diocese of Greensburg Bishop Edward C. Malesic on Sunday touted continuing to work “toward the day when wrong is overcome by charity.”
“May the souls of the departed rest in peace and their families find consolation in God’s love,” Malesic said. “May those who are wounded recover swiftly and completely. Let us pray, from the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’”
Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik said the nation has grieved “over and over and over” for the victims of mass shootings but added that prayers must also lead to actions that will address the causes of those crimes.
“Among those steps are limiting civilian access to high capacity weapons and magazines, addressing online sites that encourage violence, improving access to mental health care for those who may be prone to violence and working to overcome the racism that contributes to some of these crimes,” Zubik said. “The victims of these shootings will be in my prayers – as will those who hold the power to help prevent these massacres.”
As of Monday, there have been 255 mass shootings in the United States in 217 days in 2019, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, which defines mass shootings as incidents where four or more people are shot or killed, not including the shooter.