UNC Charlotte shooting grips community, but in Congress there’s little action

The April 30 shooting at UNC Charlotte left two young men dead, four others injured and a community shattered and heartbroken.

It seemingly had much less impact in the halls of Congress.

There were no major press conferences or pieces of legislation introduced. No marches planned or vigils scheduled. And before North Carolina’s lawmakers could deliver speeches of mourning and condolences on the floor of the House and Senate, another deadly school shooting — this one on May 7 in Colorado — had captured media attention, whatever fleeting attention there is for those kinds of events these days.

The three major cable news networks combined to provide less than 45 minutes of coverage over a three-day period of the shooting in Charlotte, according to the left-leaning Media Matters research. None of the Sunday news shows mentioned it.

President Donald Trump, a prolific presence on social media, did not send a single tweet about the shooting, those killed or the law enforcement officials who responded. Trump sent 189 tweets or retweets in the week after the shooting, including his thoughts on the Kentucky Derby and social media’s treatment of Trump-supporting sisters Diamond and Silk.

Trump did tweet about the shooting in Colorado, the fourth school shooting of the year, according to NBC News, which uses a strict definition for its list. NBC, which only considers shooters with an intent to harm during the school day or a school event in its list, counts 41 school shootings since 2013. The Trace tracked 1,157 child deaths from gun violence in the year after Parkland.

“It’s almost become commonplace around here,” said Rep. Alma Adams, a Democrat who represents Charlotte and spent time on campus after the shooting.

Backed by six other North Carolina representatives, Adams led a moment of silence for the victims — Reed Parlier and Riley Howell — on Thursday evening in the House. “Enough is enough. We can and must do more to stop gun violence,” she said. Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican from Cornelius, delivered a tribute on the Senate floor earlier this week. He choked back tears as he spoke of a day “we will never forget.”

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But Congress moved on quickly to other matters: investigations and hearings, confirming judges and partisan bickering. Previous shootings, like the 2018 shooting at a high school in Florida and others, at least stirred debate about potential solutions, like banning bump stocks, improving law enforcement response, confronting mental illness or considering the impact of anti-Semitic rhetoric.

The tragedy at UNC Charlotte didn’t wrest much of Congress from its daily churn.

“I certainly would never accept that as normal. It’s tragic,” said Rep. George Holding, a Raleigh Republican. “Until we reach some solution, the national debate needs to be vigorous.”

The national debate over UNC Charlotte was far less than vigorous. It was non-existent. Much of the coverage there was focused not on the factors that led to the shooting, but on the heroism of Howell, who like the sole victim killed in Colorado, was credited with saving other potential victims by confronting the shooter.

“These kids are feeling like they’ve got to protect themselves and each other,” Adams said. “We should not only be helping them but moving legislation that will enable our communities to be a lot safer.”

The Democratic-led House passed two gun-related measures earlier this year. One would close the so-called “Charleston loophole,” by extending the federal background check window from three days to 10 days for flagging problems. It came more than three years after a shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., killed nine parishioners at a Bible study. The other expanded background checks for guns sold at gun shows and over the internet.

The Republican-led Senate has not taken up either measure — and it is not expected to. After other shootings, Republicans, too, have acted.

In March, the Trump Department of Justice’s ban of bump stocks took effect. Bump stocks — devices that “facilitate the continuous operation of a semiautomatic long gun after a single pull of the trigger,” per the ATF — were used in the Las Vegas concert shooting on Oct. 1, 2017. After the shooting in Florida, Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, introduced legislation to let veterans patrol school grounds, even if they’re not law enforcement officials. It did not pass.

“Congress should always take every situation and look to see if there’s any way we can play a role in reducing the violence we see in our population,” said Rep. Mark Walker, a Greensboro Republican. “We want to make sure when we take action that we don’t ... go after law-abiding citizens as well. How do you keep those two separated? That’s the challenge of Congress and one we should pay attention to.”

The students are trying to make sure Congress does pay attention. Adams was a college professor for more than 40 years. She said she never worried about someone coming through the door and opening fire. Many of today’s college students have been participating in active shooter safety drills since they were in kindergarten.

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Cade Lee, director of the UNC Charlotte chapter of March For Our Lives NC, said his group has seen a large uptick in the number of students wanting to get involved since the shooting. His group is planning a march in Raleigh in June. The 20-year-old rising senior said the shootings at schools and nightclubs, concerts and movie theaters, churches and video game tournaments have affected a whole generation of children, imposing an emotional toll that older lawmakers may not full grasp.

“Having the normalization of guns and gun violence in this country and not really responding to it whatsoever shows these politicians need to be voted out. We need people that are younger, more in tune with what our children have been through,” Lee said.

Adams said she encouraged the students to become active, telling them that “you don’t change policy until you change policy makers.” She said lawmakers could pay with their jobs for inaction on the issue.

Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat whose former House district included Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 6- and 7-year-olds and six adults were killed in a Dec. 2012 shooting, offered his sobering take on the lack of reaction from Congress a day after the shooting in Charlotte.

“No shooting is going to change this place’s cold-hearted disposition on violence in America,” Murphy said. “Only elections will change how this place thinks about this issue.”