Republican lawmakers downplay push for gun control after Nashville school shooting

People pay their respects at a makeshift memorial in Nashville for victims of the Covenant School shooting.
A makeshift memorial in Nashville for victims of the Covenant School shooting. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
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Republicans continued to downplay the need for legislative action on guns following Monday’s mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, where three adults and three 9-year-old students were killed.

According to police, the shooter owned seven legally purchased firearms, including two assault-style rifles and a handgun used in the attack.

GOP leadership in Congress ignored or passed on questions discussing potential legislative solutions to curb mass shootings. Walking through the Capitol on Tuesday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy did not respond to questions from reporters asking if there should be any gun restrictions at all.

His No. 2 in leadership, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., urged caution in taking action and suggested securing schools.

"The first thing in any kind of tragedy is I pray. I pray for the victims. I pray for the families. I get really angry when people try to politicize it for their own personal agenda, especially when we don't even know the facts," said Scalise, who was shot during a congressional baseball practice in 2017.

"Let's work to see if there's something that we can do to help secure schools," he continued. "It just seems like on the other side, all they want to do is take guns away from law-abiding citizens before they even know the facts."

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., speaks at the Capitol on Tuesday.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said at a press conference Tuesday, "Our thoughts are with the families, the victims, with the community. We are grateful for the quick rapid response of law enforcement, and I think with respect to any discussion of legislation, it's premature. There's an ongoing investigation. And I think we need to let the facts come out.”

When a reporter noted there had already been 130 mass shootings in the United States so far this year, Thune reiterated that it would be “premature” to talk about legislation until the investigation into this latest shooting had been completed.

Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., said Monday that the shooting was “a horrible, horrible situation, and we’re not gonna fix it. Criminals are gonna be criminals.” Burchett said that lawmakers attempting to address gun violence would only "mess things up” and noted that he homeschooled his own daughter.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., announced Tuesday that he was introducing a resolution to condemn the shooting as a hate crime. In 2021, Hawley was the lone senator from either party to vote against a bill to denounce and combat hate crimes against Asian American communities. He explained at the time that his opposition was due to “big free speech questions.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland was asked during Senate testimony on Tuesday if he would open a hate crime investigation into the shooting. He replied, “As of now, motive hasn’t been identified. We are certainly working full time with [law enforcement] to determine what the motive is, and of course motive is what determines whether it’s a hate crime or not.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland testifies at a House Appropriations Committee hearing.
Attorney General Merrick Garland testifies at a House Appropriations Committee hearing on Wednesday. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

Metropolitan Nashville Police Chief John Drake told NBC News there was “some belief that there was some resentment [from the shooter] for having to go to that school.”

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, said in a video message that “Prayer is the first thing we should do, but it's not the only thing,” though he made no mention of guns or gun laws.

Last year, following the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 21 dead, Lee said, “We can’t control what we can’t control.” His recent focus was signing bills passed by the Republican-controlled state Legislature that banned drag shows in public places and gender-affirming care for transgender minors.

Others have pushed for action to be taken in the wake of the tragedy in Nashville. In his opening prayer Tuesday, Senate Chaplain Barry Black called on the chamber to take action.

“Lord, when babies die at a church school, it is time for us to move beyond thoughts and prayers,” said Black, a retired rear admiral who has served in the role since 2003. “Remind our lawmakers of the words of the British statesman Edmund Burke: ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.’

“Lord, deliver our senators from the paralysis of analysis that waits for the miraculous. Use them to battle the demonic forces that seek to engulf us. We pray, in your powerful name, amen,” he concluded.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a rally to demand action on gun safety.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a rally to demand action on gun safety at the Michigan state Capitol in Lansing on March 15. (Chris duMond/Getty Images)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, called the mass shooting “a uniquely American problem” and offered her condolences to those affected. She also noted the gun legislation passed by Michigan Democrats in the wake of a shooting last month at Michigan State University.

"This is precisely why it's important that we in Michigan do what we can to keep people safe through background checks, secure storage and, ultimately, extreme risk protection orders," Whitmer said. "These are the things that, steps that we can take, we are poised to take them and we will make a meaningful difference in mitigating the likelihood that this will happen again.”

President Biden called on Congress to take action, saying the White House had exhausted the possibilities of executive actions on guns. He told reporters, “I have gone the full extent of my executive authority to do, on my own, anything about guns.”

“The Congress has to act,” he said. “The majority of the American people think having assault weapons is bizarre; it’s a crazy idea. They’re against that. And so I think the Congress should be passing the assault weapons ban.”

Speaking at a North Carolina semiconductor plant on Tuesday afternoon, Biden added that there was “a moral price to pay for inaction.”