Micek: Until the next mass shooting, Congress

John L. Micek
John Micek, editorial and opinions editor for PennLive/The Patriot-News.

Why did they even bother?

In results so preordained that even the most fervent partisan could not have failed to see them coming, a paralyzed U.S. Senate broke largely along party lines, systematically shooting down a quartet of gun—control measures.

And with those votes early Monday evening, any hope that Congress will act for the rest of the year on even the most cosmetic of changes brought in response to the worst mass shooting in the nation's history simply vanished.

"Enough," presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said in a single—word statement, followed by the names and ages of the 49 young people, mostly men, nearly all of them Hispanic, who died in last Sunday's shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

Enough, indeed.

You'd think Congress — that America — would have had enough by now.

Enough after Newtown. Enough after Charleston. Enough after San Bernardino.

And, now, enough after Orlando, where an American-born terrorist, driven by hatred, religious fanaticism, fear and self-loathing opened fire in a roomful of innocents.

You'd think that we would have had enough of the violence that echoes through our streets, that pierces the silence of a summer night in Baltimore, in Chicago or in any big city. But we have not.

The carnage, the slaughter, the inevitable, circular arguments about whether any law, anywhere, would ever stop the killing continued.

But this time, we told ourselves, maybe it would be different.

Maybe it would be different after a U.S. senator from Connecticut, Christopher Murphy, took over the Senate floor for 15 hours, ending an extraordinary marathon with the extraordinary story of a six-year-old boy from Newtown named Dylan Hockley; and one extraordinary woman, teacher's aide Anne Marie Murphy, who sheltered his body with her own to gain him a few more minutes of life.

The two were found together, wrapped in an embrace, on the floor of a classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The optimistic news after Murphy's rare filibuster, that the Senate would vote on four bills, two backed by Democrats, two backed by Republicans, was briefly cause for cheer.

But any hope for their passage swiftly evaporated in the face of both the Senate's Byzantine rules and the usual partisan posturing.

Yet they trudged on with the charade anyway.

Republicans conspired to defeat Democratic-backed terror watchlist prohibitions. Democrats rejected a sham Republican bill that would have made it nearly impossible for the government to stop suspected terrorists from getting guns.

While they were at it, the warring sides also voted down bills that would have expanded background checks for gun-purchasers.

Monday night's legislative kabuki was a stark reminder that Congress broadly, and on guns particularly. has lost its ability to get anything done.

So why go through the exercise? Just to say they did something?

The issue now seems certain to be one to be litigated on the campaign trail — where it will not be settled at all.

"Some of this is going to turn into an electoral operation," Murphy told Politico. "'I'm going to be turning my attention to the November election. I'm going to take some of my energy and help make sure that people who cast the wrong vote don't come back to the Senate."

Clinton and presumptive Republican nominee Donald J. Trump have already fought over gun control.

It will also be a key issue in the fight over control of the Senate, where Democrats are looking to flip five seats, including one held by Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Toomey is one of the few Republicans with anything resembling a sane attitude on gun-control His Democratic rival, Katie McGinty, quickly issued a statement blasting Toomey, setting the tone for the rest of the year, and the gridlock to come. It was as predictable as the votes' inevitable failure.

Meanwhile, as cities such as Orlando drill for mass casualty events, it's not a matter of whether there will be another shooting. But rather when it will happen and how many will die needlessly.

See you at the next mass shooting, Congress.

John L. Micek is the opinion editor and political columnist for PennLive/The Patriot—News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.