South Dakota’s members of Congress are wasting their potential influence on gun violence

Gun Rights

Whenever there is a mass shooting in the United States, it seems as if a memo goes out to Republican members of Congress so that they are all on the same page when asked about the prospect of reforming the country’s gun laws. 

Sometimes they say they don’t want to politicize a tragedy, and other times they say it’s not proper to consider new laws while the country is grieving. After the school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, it seemed like the memo said that, when asked, Republican members of Congress should say that they were still waiting for more information. 

After the shooting in Nashville, Sen. John Thune was quoted in a South Dakota Public Broadcasting story saying that discussing legislation was “premature” and that the investigation of the incident had to bring out the facts. A roundup of Republican leaders in the Washington Post showed that many of them had the same idea about waiting until the investigation into the murders was finished. 

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Other members of the South Dakota delegation had more substance in their comments, but refused to go on record as supporting any sort of gun safety legislation. Rep. Dusty Johnson noted his ongoing support for “robust” funding for mental health programs. Sen. Mike Rounds pointed toward his legislation that would transfer federal funding from accounts designed to fund solar panels for schools and use it to reinforce school security measures. 

Rounds’ bill would make schools eligible to share $100 million per year for installing the security measures that they choose. Turning schools into armed camps likely isn’t the best solution to halt the mass shootings across our nation. 

Too often in this nation, anyone with the temerity to talk about gun reforms is labeled as weak or woke or unpatriotic.

The responses from the South Dakota delegation are in line with that of other Republicans in Congress who refuse to acknowledge that a strong majority of Americans support some changes to gun laws. Many favor universal background checks, raising the minimum age to buy guns or banning the sale of AR-15s.

Thune, Rounds and Johnson each have A+ ratings from the National Rifle Association. Their comments about the Nashville shooting show that they are disinclined to jeopardize that rating by discussing any reforms that have anything to do with guns. 

That’s a shame, because the three of them have set high standards for leadership and getting legislation approved. A recent South Dakota Searchlight roundup of congressional news noted that in the “effectiveness scores” tallied by the Center for Effective Lawmaking, South Dakota’s delegation gets high marks. 

Johnson ranked 14th in effectiveness among 222 Republican House members. Among 50 Republican Senate members, Rounds ranked ninth and Thune 13th. The rankings are based on 15 metrics that measure bills sponsored, how far they make it through the legislative process and how substantial their policy proposals are. 

South Dakota’s delegation is also top-heavy in leadership positions. Thune is the minority whip in the Senate — the No. 2 position in Senate Republican leadership. In the House, Johnson is the chairman of the 67-member Main Street Caucus. That group is known for its conservative principles and its belief in governing in a thoughtful and pragmatic manner. 

That’s exactly what this country needs — a thoughtful, pragmatic approach to gun reforms. Too often in this nation, anyone with the temerity to talk about gun reforms is labeled as weak or woke or unpatriotic. With their South Dakota hunting background and their seal of approval from the NRA, if they chose to take on gun reform legislation, it would be hard to accuse the delegation of being anything but concerned about curtailing gun violence.

Here’s hoping they can use their effectiveness credentials and their leadership positions to put gun safety reforms on the congressional agenda. If they can’t, it will just be a waiting game until the next mass shooting and the next memo comes out telling them how to sidestep questions about how Congress should respond to gun violence. 

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