Sunday's mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival Sunday night has been called the deadliest in modern American history, with at least 59 people killed hundreds more injured. Among those shot dead was a native Vermonter, 35-year-old Sandra Casey of Dorset.
VPR's Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Vermont Congressman Peter Welch on the prospect for legislation to change the country's gun laws.
"It's been very dispiriting, the congressional reaction to mass shootings. What happens is that we have a moment of silence and the members of Congress have heartfelt sorrow at the tragedy. But Congress has a responsibility to act. And it has consistently failed to act. Whether we're going to be able to get some action now remains to be seen. But you know this really is an epidemic. And 59 people yesterday that lost their lives, the shooter had guns that were not transformed into fully automatic weapons, is what the news appears to tell us, that were firing off 400 to 800 rounds a minute. And that's very much a military type of operation. And we still are struggling to have hearings," Welch said. "You know, the [House Speaker] Paul Ryan has the authority, yes or no, to having a hearing. And the very minimum they should allow folks who've got positions on this, victims, law enforcement people, advocates for Second Amendment. How do we take sensible action to try to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them?"
On Congressional Hearings
"There's a bill in the house that would get rid of the gun show loophole and have tighter background checks and that's got bipartisan support. Peter King, a Republican from New York, former law enforcement officer, and Mike Thompson, a member of the NRA, a Democrat, had this and I think there's significant support, certainly majority support in the Democratic Party, less so in the Republican Party. But this is where Congress especially the House can be extremely difficult because whether we have a hearing or whether we have an opportunity to vote on legislation is a decision the House Speaker gets to make. And the bottom line here I think for us is in Congress, where it's our job to try to come up with some improvements in what is clearly a very, very bad situation, for us not even have a hearing, for us not to even have a debate on practical steps that we can take that respect the Second Amendment and diminish the opportunity for a person who shouldn't have a gun and to have one that's really on Congress. So there will be a movement among many of us to try to get those hearings," Welch said.
"Senator Chris Murphy, a former colleague in the House who represents Connecticut where the terrible Sandy Hook tragedy occurred, is going to be pushing for better background checks. So the effort will continue but I hear dismay from from my constituents and from people around the country that Congress doesn't even have a hearing. And we should. "
Responsible Gun Owners Need to Help
"We've had a long tradition, and this is particularly true in Vermont, of responsible gun use in respect for the Second Amendment that's been particularly true in Vermont. A lot of other Vermonters teach their kids about nature. They get them out in the woods they teach them proper hunting and safety. And that's really good. You want to maintain that. But what we're clearly seeing is that there is an epidemic of this mass violence. And it's not going to be as though a piece of legislation is going to solve this by any means, and even the gun background check probably would not have prevented this person from getting a gun but doing nothing is acting as though there is no problem. And there is a problem. And in fact we need some of our folks who are gun users to help us get passed practical legislation that does respect their right to have guns for proper purposes."
"There are there are gun owners who can help. In fact Mike Thompson, the congressman from California, has been a lifelong member of the NRA. And so there are lots of folks who understand the importance of the Second Amendment but they also understand what I would say is, and I think most people would I think agree, is common sense gun legislation. So there's got to be an engagement and a dialogue about what are some of the steps we can do," Welch said, but he added that he's "pessimistic" about House Speaker Ryan calling any Congressional hearings regarding gun control legislation.