Sometimes it takes someone not in politics to point out the insanity that dominates our current political moment.
On Tuesday night – in the wake of a school shooting in Texas that left 19 children and two adults dead – that person was Steve Kerr, the head coach of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. He was openly emotional, angry and frustrated.
You should watch his whole statement, but here’s the key bit:
“When are we going to do something? I am tired. I am so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families out there. I’m tired of the moments of silence. Enough. … So I ask you, Mitch McConnell and all of you senators who refuse to do anything about the violence and the school shootings and the supermarkets shootings – I ask you, are you going to put your own desire for power ahead of the lives of our children and our elderly and our church-goers? Because that’s what it looks like. That’s what we do every week. I’m fed up. I’ve had enough. We can’t get numb to this. We can’t sit here and just read about it and say let’s have a moment of silence.”
(For those who want to dismiss Kerr as just a basketball coach, it’s worth remembering that his father was shot and killed in a 1984 at the American University of Beirut.)
Kerr specifically referenced HR 8, a House bill that would expand background checks to include private gun sales and gun show sales. The measure first passed the House in 2019 – eight Republicans joined 232 Democrats in voting for it – but didn’t have a path in the Senate. It was reintroduced in the House (and passed again with bipartisan support) in 2021.
Last December, Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy tried to pass HR 8 by unanimous consent, but was blocked by Senate Republicans. In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday following the Uvalde shooting, Murphy castigated his colleagues for their lack of action.
“Guns flow in this country like water, and that’s why we have mass shooting after mass shooting, and, you know, spare me the bullshit about mental illness,” said Murphy. “We don’t have any more mental illness than any other country in the world. You cannot explain this through a prism of mental illness because … we’re not an outlier on mental illness, we’re an outlier when it comes to access to firearms and the ability of criminals and very sick people to get their hands on firearms. That’s what makes America different.”
At issue is the 60-vote threshold necessary to end debate in the Senate. Without 60 votes on any gun control legislation, there is no path forward. And at the moment – and unless something major shifts – there aren’t 60 Senate votes for anything that is perceived as curtailing gun rights.
The closest the Senate came to addressing the country’s gun violence epidemic was in 2013, when a bipartisan effort led by West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey that would have expanded background checks received 54 votes.
(Murphy, for what it’s worth, was dismissive of using the Manchin-Toomey proposal as a blueprint for future action. “Manchin-Toomey is not just a background checks bill,” he said Wednesday. “It’s got lots of sweeteners in it designed to get the NRA’s support.”)
What’s remarkable about the impasse on guns in the Senate is that – as Kerr noted – massive majorities of the public, regardless of political party, support some new gun restrictions. A 2021 poll from Pew Research Center showed that 87% of Americans supported preventing people with mental illnesses from buying guns, while 81% backed making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks. Two-thirds of Americans supported a national gun database and banning high-capacity ammunition magazines.
And yet, and yet, and yet.
During a speech Wednesday, McConnell said he was praying for those involved in the shooting and placed blame on the shooter, calling him a “deranged young man” and a “maniac,” CNN’s Ted Barrett reported. He didn’t mention the shooter’s access to weapons or any legislative solutions.
There are those who will argue that this proposal or that proposal would not have prevented what happened in Texas on Tuesday. Which, fine.
But go back to Kerr. This isn’t about some dry legislative proposal. This is about who we are and who we want to be as a country. Do we want to just keep rinsing and repeating with these mass shootings? Do we want to grow numb (or number) to what happened in Uvalde or Newtown or dozens of other places around the country?
Or do we want to do what we can to change things – with the recognition that no public policy proposal is perfect or will completely solve our gun violence problem?
“I’ve had enough,” Kerr said as he walked away from the microphone. Same.