Two mass shootings have occurred in the U.S. in less than 24 hours. The first was in El Paso, Texas, where a gunman opened fire in a shopping area. He killed 20 people and wounded more than two dozen in his attack. The second was in Dayton, Ohio, in a popular nightlife area. The gunman, wearing body armor and carrying extra magazines, killed nine people and injured nearly 30.

Georgia’s political leaders react to El Paso, Dayton shootings

Georgia Democrats demanded tighter gun control restrictions and raged about a cycle of violence, horrified reaction and legislative inaction that’s become predictable after the mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.

Gov. Brian Kemp and other Georgia Republican leaders largely offered expressions of condolence for the victims and praise for the police officers who swiftly responded to the crimes without mentioning firearms.

State Democratic leaders lamented another missed opportunity to overhaul the nation’s gun laws and echoed 2020 White House hopefuls who want new restrictions after shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, left at least 29 people dead.  

“It’s the same conversation we’ve had every single time there’s a shooting,” said state Sen. Jen Jordan, a Sandy Springs Democrat. “For a day or two people are concerned and are open to talking about common-sense legislation. But let’s see what happens in a week.” 

The response from Georgia Democrats provided another window to how sharply the state party has shifted on gun control issues. 

Democrats in Georgia have generally embraced a friendly attitude to a gun lobby that enjoyed immense power under the Gold Dome, but last year gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams and other leading Democrats broke from decades of conventional party strategy by calling for firearms restrictions.

In the hours after the massacres, some Democrats revived calls for gun control measures likely to get sidelined in a Republican-controlled statehouse. Others urged the private sector to intervene. And some worried that the public’s outrage will soon fade with the next political firestorm.

“How many times must our communities be torn apart for my colleagues to act?” asked U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, who became a national gun control advocate after her son was shot and killed. 

“As a nation, we have been stuck in a deadly cycle of sending thoughts and prayers year after year, while we continue to lose thousands,” added McBath, who flipped a suburban Atlanta district last year with a message that included unflinching support for gun restrictions. 


 

‘Where is the courage?’

Several candidates for Georgia offices next year outlined their support for a different approach to a gun control debate that’s stalled on Capitol Hill for years. 

Nabilah Islam, one of several Democrats competing for Georgia’s 7th District, called on Walmart to stop selling firearms at its more than 5,000 retail stores in the U.S., much like Dick’s Sporting Goods announced it would no longer sell assault-style weapons after the 2017 school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

“Until a time where we can pass comprehensive gun reform and we can bring sanity back to our discourse, it is the community's responsibility to take action,” said Islam, who added: “Thoughts and prayers are not enough. We need action.”

Two Democrats who have announced challenges to U.S. Sen. David Perdue called for an edgier approach. 

Former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson pledged to be “at the forefront of the fight” to pass new gun restrictions. And Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry went a step further.

“I’m pissed. Where is the courage to act?” Terry wrote. “Shut down the Senate, force debate on evidence-based policy solutions. Don’t sit on the sidelines. Don’t let up, keep asking the question: Why does it never end? We have the power to stop this madness.” 

Perdue was silent on the shootings for most of the weekend, but Sunday evening he tweeted that he was "sickened" by the attacks. "I join Georgians & the entire nation in unequivocally condemning these hateful attacks on Americans."

His Republican colleague, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, tweeted Saturday night about the El Paso attack and Sunday morning about the shooting in Ohio. In both, he said he’s praying for those affected.

And Kemp offered prayer “for the victims and their loved ones as well as the law enforcement and first-responders whose quick action saved so many.” 

He added: “These tragedies are truly unthinkable.” 

Compromise?

Some Democrats saw a glimpse of potential compromise. 

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., posted his support for “red flag” laws that “empower states to deal with those who present a danger to themselves and others — while respecting robust due process.”


 

That legislation, backed by McBath, would allow police or family members to seek court orders temporarily restricting people from obtaining firearms if they pose a danger to themselves or others.

In Georgia, Jordan has advocated for a similar measure that aims to keep guns out of the hands of those convicted of family violence charges. Her proposal, Senate Bill 150, received some initial support from Republicans, but that evaporated amid opposition from gun rights groups. 

“I don’t want to seem partisan about it because I think there are Republicans that are reasonable and moderate and they get it. But from what I’ve experienced at the Capitol, common-sense legislation is OK until gun groups come after them,” she said. 

“They’re weaponizing fear. If people don’t act with courage, we’ve got to change the people who are there. There’s nothing else we can do.”

Jordan’s measure is staunchly opposed by Second Amendment groups, including Patrick Parsons of Georgia Gun Owners, who tangled on Twitter with Jordan over the idea. He said lawmakers should pass “pro-gun bills that make criminals terrified again” rather than seek to restrict firearms.

Many Democrats also linked President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and actions for the increase in hate crimes and violence tied to white-supremacists

(The president condemned the “hateful act” and said “there are no reasons or excuses that will ever justify killing innocent people.”)

Among them was Abrams, who called on her supporters to pray for both the victims of the violence and for "leaders who ban assault weapons and refuse to lessen the humanity of any of God’s children with racist words and hateful speech.” 

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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