President Donald Trump stood before a crowd of supporters in Bossier City, Louisiana, Thursday night and delivered a wide-ranging speech for more than an hour.
He expressed support for Republican gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone ahead of a Saturday election. He railed against Democrats on impeachment proceedings, going after witnesses. He boasted about the economy, military spending and border security. He went after Joe Biden.
But he did not address the school shooting that happened just hours before he took the podium.
As students arrived for the day at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California, a shooter killed two students and wounded three others before turning the gun on himself. The suspect, a student at the school, allegedly carried out the attack on his 16th birthday.
Numerous mass shootings have rocked the country in the nearly three years since Trump took office: the congressional baseball shooting, the Las Vegas shooting, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, back-to-back shootings at an El Paso Walmart and outside a Dayton bar among those grabbing headlines. And in the 46 weeks of 2019 so far, CNN has tallied there have been 44 shootings at schools.
Inaction amid impeachment
In the immediate aftermath of the horrific Parkland High School massacre that killed 17 in February 2018, Trump heard emotional stories from people affected by the nation’s deadliest school shootings at a listening session, vowing to find a solution to the scourge of gun violence. But nearly two years later, there has been minimal progress, with blame-shifting coming from both Congress and the White House.
While there have been some efforts to prepare potential policy prescriptions to address gun access, a deeply divided Congress and an indecisive White House have contributed to inaction. Attorney General Bill Barr suggested earlier this week that impeachment proceedings have derailed any good-faith efforts to pass gun legislation.
“Right now it does not appear that things in Washington are amenable to those kinds of negotiations and compromises,” Barr acknowledged at an event in Memphis, Tennessee, on Wednesday.
But impeachment doesn’t prevent Trump from working with Democrats on legislative priorities. Former President Bill Clinton, the last US president to be impeached, said it’s an opportunity for Trump and Congress to work together on gun legislation.
“Look, you got hired to do a job. You don’t get to — every day’s an opportunity to make something good happen,” Clinton said during an Thursday interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. “And I would say, ‘I’ve got lawyers and staff people handling this impeachment inquiry and they should just have at it. Meanwhile, I’m going to work for the American people.’ That’s what I would do.”
In February, the newly Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed a measure which would require background checks on all firearm sales in the country. Currently, under federal law, only licensed gun dealers must perform background checks for anyone seeking to purchase a firearm, which leaves the sale of guns between individuals largely unregulated. That bill has since been held up in the Senate, with Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy making an impromptu — but failed — effort to pass it on Thursday.
House Democrats advanced a number of other measures through the judiciary committee, but lawmakers have yet to find agreement on any legislative fixes. When Barr met with lawmakers to float the background check proposal, it was met with stiff opposition from some conservatives, and the White House later distanced itself from it.
For his part, Trump never made a decision about which efforts he wanted to endorse — an act that leading Republican lawmakers said they were waiting for before moving forward.
Talks with lawmakers over gun legislation appeared to bottom out in late September, about the time the relationship between Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California soured over the nascent impeachment inquiry.
Another contributing factor: Trump’s continued support from the National Rifle Association.
Trump and Wayne LaPierre, the chief executive of the National Rifle Association, met in late September at the White House, according to an administration official, who declined to comment on what was discussed. But The New York Times, citing conversations with two people familiar with the meeting, reported that Trump and LaPierre discussed how the NRA could support Trump during impeachment and reelection.
The Times noted that it’s unclear whether Trump suggested the organization support him or if LaPierre presented the idea. The paper said that in exchange for the support, La Pierre “asked that the White House ‘stop the games’ over gun control legislation.” In response to The Times’ story, the NRA denied any “special arrangements” made with Trump.
There have been few tangible steps taken to address mass shootings: the administration did enact the Fix NICS Act, which incentivizes state and federal authorities to report more data to the country’s gun background check system, in 2018. Congress also passed the STOP School Violence Act, which aims to provide more training for school officials and local law enforcement to respond to mental health crises, as well as, among other things, money to develop anonymous reporting systems for threats and deterrents like metal detectors and locks.
And the administration’s school safety commission released a report with recommendations last year. But critics say the commission did not focus on the role of guns in school violence.
On Thursday, Saugus High School became just the latest to experience a mass shooting. And in its aftermath, the White House quickly moved on from an occurrence that’s become all too common.
In the afternoon, Trump expressed condolences in a tweet. And speaking to a group at NASA in northern California, Vice President Mike Pence called the day “heartbreaking.” He said he spoke to Trump about the shooting and pledged that the administration is dedicated to ending the “scourge of gun violence.”
In Louisiana in the evening, Trump did abstain from his usual riff criticizing Democrats on the Second Amendment, mentioning it just once as he touted Rispone’s credentials, and referencing guns as he went after former 2020 presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.
“We will defend privacy, free speech, free assembly, religious liberty and the right to keep and bear arms,” he said to applause as he wrapped his remarks.