Ground Game

The gun debate is probably tabled until 2020. But there’s one way it could happen earlier

Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

President Trump addressed the nation Thursday in the sincere, conciliatory tone necessary for a moment when the country was grieving over the worst school shooting since Sandy Hook five years ago.

Sticking to the teleprompter, he offered assurances that there would be resources forthcoming from the federal government. He quoted Scripture. He thanked first responders. He spoke directly to America’s children who might be scared to attend school.

He said 700 words in the course of six minutes. He said we need to better “secure our schools” and expressed a need to address “mental health” issues.


One word he didn’t utter was “gun.” That shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who has watched Trump give similar speeches this past year.

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What it shows is this: The gun control debate is so nonexistent that not even gun control advocates are getting that worked up beyond their usual press releases. No one believes “this time it’s different” — because no one would believe them.

In the aftermath of a shooting that killed 17, there are no coordinated calls to action, even though it was one of the top 10 mass shootings in modern US history.

After Sandy Hook, people demanded specific gun control measures. When more shootings followed, the same rhetoric was repeated, particularly a call to reinstate an assault weapons ban. After the Las Vegas shooting last fall, the focus turned to a federal ban on bump stocks, which has gone nowhere.

This time around, Republicans from Trump to House Speaker Paul Ryan mentioned doing a better job helping those with mental illness. But there was no mention of specific measures or how they would have prevented what happened in Florida.


There have now been 18 American school shootings in the first seven weeks of 2018. The collective response politically has been sad shoulder-shrugging. No one wishes it would happen, but what are you gonna do? It’s normal, and it is the reality of life in the United States.

It is unlikely that this will change until Trump leaves the White House. At least for another three years, the issue will be tabled. And sure, gun control and mass shootings could become issues debated in the next presidential campaign, but they will compete for attention with so many other topics in this chaotic presidency.

However, in one scenario, something could happen sooner regarding gun control: a Democrat-controlled House and Senate and a Republican president willing to sign something.

This might happen as a result of the 2018 midterm elections (though Republicans are liking their chances these days of barely holding on to at least one chamber). If Democrats do take over both chambers, one could imagine a 2020 presidential candidate in the US Senate launching into a big filibuster on the issue. At that point, it might be smart politics for Trump to try to co-opt the issue ahead of the election and sign something.

Even that unlikely scenario wouldn’t play out for a long time. Until then, there is no reason to even discuss what could be done to prevent the next massacre. It would just be idle talk.

James Pindell can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics: