In the aftermath of last Saturday’s attack on Hispanic shoppers at the Cielo Vista Walmart and the mass shooting a day later in Dayton, Ohio, the question is everywhere: Will this be the tipping point?
“Will this time be different?” an online BBC story asks before pointing to the swift changes regarding gun possession that did take place after mass shootings in Australia in 1996 and New Zealand’s Christchurch mosque this year.
Australia responded by banning assault-style weapons, and New Zealand began its first round of gun buybacks last month after banning most semiautomatic weapons.
But the list of mass shootings with military-style rifles in the U.S. over the years is long and the record of changes in gun laws is very short.
Counting El Paso and Dayton, the number of mass shootings in the U.S. so far this year stands at 20 by some estimates.
“Is this the tipping point? I don’t know, I certainly hope so,” a weary U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar said. “But I haven’t seen any more than talk in the days after this tragedy.”
She said the U.S. House has approved “red flag” legislation and a bill requiring universal background checks for gun buyers that would constitute progress if the Senate were quickly convened to approve them.
“We passed two common sense pieces of gun violence prevention legislation with bipartisan support,” Escobar said. “It’s what the president has been talking about. They’re done.”
At the state level, she said, “the lieutenant governor said we’re going to have roundtables” on possible gun legislation.
“They could call a special session now, but it just seems like there’s never a good time and whenever you bring it up, you’re called ‘political’ or they accuse you of raising the issue too soon.
“So my perspective is it’s too late. There are going to be 22 funerals. It’s too late.”
But a day later, on Thursday, President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed their willingness to consider swift action on background checks and other gun-related legislation.
“When we get back, hopefully, we’ll be able to get together and pass something,” McConnell said.
Escobar said she was even less hopeful about changing the hatred and bigotry that are fueling domestic terrorism.
That’s the charge Patrick Crusius is likely to face at the federal level because of what he apparently wrote in a manifesto before heading to El Paso, expecting to die and vowing not to surrender.
“Our European comrades don’t have the gun rights needed to repel the millions of invaders that plaque (sic) their country,” he wrote.
He quit shooting when he ran out of ammunition and then surrendered to police.
Escobar said the only real opportunity for a turnaround will be at the polls.
“People are going to have to decide whether the status quo is acceptable,” she said.
So will a shooting that killed 22 people in a city that averaged 18 murders over the past five years somehow tip the scales in the U.S.?
It’s not likely, said Richard Pineda, an associate professor in UTEP’s Department of Communication and director of the Sam Donaldson Center for Communications.
“I’m a pessimist, and I don’t think this is going to change anything very much,” he said earlier in the week. “But I think the tragedy is incredibly impactful for El Paso.
“I think it’ll probably change the tone of a lot of people that would engage in conversation about gun control, especially in El Paso and maybe even in Texas.”
He said gun control will be one issue floating in an ugly sea with racism and white nationalism.
“It’s really hard to isolate one of those as being worse than the other, and one that would need more pressing action,” he said. “Having the intersection of these three big issues means it’s harder to muster the energy to go after one of those issues.
“The real challenge is if you look at the Sandy Hook incident where there were young children involved. If that didn’t move the needle, I don’t think there’s a reason why the El Paso shooting moves the needle more.”
And while there may be legislative actions in Austin and Washington, they will only lightly address one of the realities of the United States in 2019 – guns.
Addressing guns, white nationalism and racism would require the kind of focus and persistence that are hard for people and politicians to sustain over time, Pineda said.
El Paso will certainly hurt for a long time, but the nation will move on.
“It’s about attention span,” Pineda said. “The more these things happen, I think, the more desensitized we get.”
And then there’s issue fatigue, which undermines momentum on effective policies, he said.
“I think the necessity of momentum means you’ve got to strike while the iron is hot, and you’ve got to build this political capital,” he said. “I don’t think this is going to happen.”
But he predicted, the mass shootings last weekend will affect the next round of upcoming local elections and the race for congressional District 23 that Republican Will Hurd is giving up.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.