Vulnerable lawmakers answer noisy gun debate with silence
They crowded around the White House conference table this past week, lawmakers from California, Connecticut, Texas and Florida, eager to share their state’s painful experience with gun violence.
One key state was not represented. No one from Nevada, home to the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history just five months ago, attended the televised discussion with the president.
But in the politics of gun control, even those who say the least have considerable sway. Despite a clamor for action in the wake of the Florida school shooting, a powerful group of vulnerable lawmakers – both Republicans and Democrats – have pointedly avoided the national conversation about guns.
They often choose strategic silence rather than get crosswise with the National Rifle Association’s die-hard supporters on the right or the growing movement of passionate gun control advocates on the left.
The office of Nevada’s senior senator, Republican Dean Heller, would not say why he did not attend the White House meeting. Heller, who is facing a tough re-election fight, has avoided the spotlight in the subsequent days as well, declining to address specifics about his positions on gun legislation.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment about whether Heller was invited to the event. The state’s Democratic senator, Catherine Cortez Masto, and its three Democratic representatives also did not attend.
Heller spokeswoman Megan Taylor declined to say whether the senator supported universal background checks, raising the age for gun purchases to 21, or provisions to ban high-capacity magazines and assault rifles, all ideas tossed out by lawmakers or President Donald Trump in recent days.
On the Senate floor this week, blue-state senators such as Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts’ Ed Markey and New Jersey’s Cory Booker offered fiery speeches about gun violence. Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, a swing-state Republican whose current term ends in 2022, re-emerged as the face of the push for universal background checks.