Recent polling suggests that most Americans think arming teachers is a mistake. Massie acknowledged that his proposal is unpopular. But the important point, he said, is that he’s been out front with it: making frequent appearances on NBC, CNN, and NPR, “trying to reach new audiences with this message.”
He told me he wished leadership would do the same thing with their own proposals, whatever they may be. “I think we have a leadership problem here in the House. A real leader on this issue would be out in front doing what I’m doing,” he said. “I wouldn’t have to go on the Sunday shows if they were really leading on this issue instead of cowering and trying to insulate members from tough votes.” (AshLee Strong, a spokesman for Ryan, responded that the House “has already passed the Fix NICS bill” and is now waiting to see “what the Senate will do.”)
Yet even if more Republicans declare themselves open to a “tough vote,” and respond to political pressures in favor of something proactive, there’s little they can do if they can’t agree on a starting point. On most issues, Senate leadership likes to demonstrate a broad consensus and then schedule floortime, comfortable in the knowledge that the bill will pass. Senator Pat Toomey told me that lawmakers will have to figure it out before trying to convince Senate leadership that new gun laws deserve consideration. “There are a tremendous number of varied ideas and issues competing for time right now, and time is the most limited and precious commodity on the Senate floor,” he said. Until they have 60 votes on a piece of legislation, however modest in scope, “it’s hard to make the case to McConnell” that it deserves floor consideration.
Toomey added that he thought McConnell wanted to get gun legislation to the floor. “But I also think we need to be really honest about the fact that this is a complicated problem,” he said, referring to the intersection of gun control and mental health.
That’s what Toomey hopes senators can achieve with Fix NICS—that in two weeks, senators could be seriously debating new restrictions on gun purchases and more tightly regulated systems for information sharing among law enforcement.
Other Republicans I spoke to, however, said the time had come to stop lumping in gun violence with the rest of the “issues” Congress will tackle this year, as if it were a banking-reform package or a farm-bill extension. Ultimately, they said, the House and Senate leadership can decide to make addressing gun violence a priority if it wants to, whether from the angle of guns, mental health, or both.
Mast cited tax reform as an example, noting the extensive listening sessions, public-relations campaign, and persistent focus on the issue among Republicans in the fall.
“That’s how I would lead. I’d put the same focus and urgency on this as we did on tax reform,” he told me. “I wouldn’t wait for the Senate to do this, or the president to do that. We should be saying, as 435 members of the House, ‘Never again.’”