CNN reported Thursday that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell gave his side the go-ahead to participate in bipartisan talks on gun legislation following the mass shooting in Uvalde, Utah. Texas.
Which might surprise you, especially since no meaningful gun control measures have been passed by the Senate in nearly 30 years.
So what is McConnell doing here?
First remember that McConnell does nothing – anything – without realizing the political consequences and complications. Criticize him for it if you want (and you probably will), but his willingness to always make raw political calculation is what made him so successful.
McConnell knows the massacre of 19 children (and two teachers) has galvanized the country to seek some kind of sensible gun reform in a way not seen since the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, NY. Connecticut, in December 2012.
Faced with these calls for action, he does not want his party to be seen as totally reluctant to talk or negotiate. While guns haven’t been a dominant voting issue in the past, McConnell knows this election — if the past is any prologue — should be a pretty good election for Republicans, and doesn’t want to do anything (or do nothing) to change this dynamic. .
But a very public willingness to engage in bipartisan discussions on guns is not at all the same as supporting major gun control legislation.
All you have to do is look at the words used by McConnell in his statement sanctioning the talks.
“I met with Senator Cornyn this morning,” he told CNN on Thursday. “As you know he returned home yesterday to see family members and begin the investigation into this horrific massacre and I encouraged him to speak with Senator Murphy and Senator Sinema and other interested persons trying to get a result that is directly related to the problem. I hope we can find a bipartisan solution.
The key to this quote is: “I encouraged him to speak with Senator Murphy and Senator Sinema and others interested in trying to get an outcome directly related to the issue.”
What McConnell is signaling there is that he might be willing to support a narrowly worded bill that directly addresses the circumstances under which the Uvalde shooter obtained his guns and ammunition. McConnell gave no details on what it might look like. The shooter bought the guns which he used legally and had never had any reported mental health issues before.
McConnell’s view may not be far off from what Texas Senator Ted Cruz said earlier this week: “If you want to stop violent crime, the proposals from the Democrats – none of them would have stopped that.”
Don’t twist it: McConnell’s sanction of bipartisan gun talks should NOT be interpreted as some kind of major shift in the larger Republican view on gun control. The party remains broadly opposed to any kind of sweeping (or semi-quick) legislation that would fundamentally change our relationship with guns in this country.