Listening to Republicans speak in the wake of the horrifying mass shooting last week at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida one couldn't help getting the sense that they were all reading from the same script.
Certainly, we've heard remarkably homogeneous comments from GOP politicians following previous shooting incidents. That's why "Thoughts and Prayers" has become both a meme and a hashtag (#thoughtsandprayers).
But the extent to which the Republicans have retreated to the cover of talking points, rather than engaging in substantive conversations about America's gun problem, seems to have reached peak absurdity this week.
The most well worn part of the script is, of course, the obligatory "thoughts and prayers" and that sentiment was well represented this week:
Donald Trump: "My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims"
Mike Pence: "These students, teachers, administrators, & families will all remain in our prayers"
Mitch McConnell: "My colleagues from Florida will carry home the prayers of the entire Senate"
When asked for further comment in the days immediately following the shooting most of the GOP responded with some variation of "it's too soon to comment":
Paul Ryan: "This is one of those moments where we just need to step back and count our blessings. We need to think less about taking sides and fighting each other politically, and just pulling together."
Of course, the issue of gun control can only be dodged for so long and so we have seen a new argument being deployed after recent shootings. The new addition to the GOP script is the insistence that America does not have a problem with guns - what America has is a mental health crisis:
Donald Trump: "So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behaviour"
Paul Ryan: "There may be some mental health issues with this shooting"
What these Republicans fail to acknowledge is that shifting the blame from guns onto mental health does not in any way remove the need for gun control. Indeed, if America is suffering a mental health crisis, as they seem to suggest, then the need for effective gun control is greater than ever.
President Trump is on especially shaky ground when shifting the focus to mental health as he was responsible for approving the removal of an Obama-era regulation meant to prevent people with mental illnesses from buying guns.
Nonetheless, there may be some signs in the past 48 hours that the President could be considering a change in direction, albeit a minor one. Student victims and parents attended the White House on Wednesday for what was dubbed a "listening session." Then the following day Trump announced that his administration would be pursuing regulations around background checks and bump stocks (which enable semiautomatic weapons to fire more rapidly).
Hardly groundbreaking changes, and we have yet to see if the rest of the Republican establishment will get on board, but there is perhaps a sign that change is possible if the public continues to pressure the government on this issue.
If regular Americans signal that they have had enough, the GOP will have no choice but to abandon their talking points and join the national conversation around common sense gun regulation.
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