If there is one thing that Black Lives Matter protesters and the nation’s cops can agree on, it is outrage over the utter uselessness of the current political leadership in Washington.
Top law enforcement representatives, still struggling to process the murder of five police officers in Dallas Thursday evening, turned the heat up on the nation’s politicians. In the past five years, not a single firearms measure has been passed by Congress. On top of that, the president issued an executive order to limit a program to give the military surplus they have said they desperately need.
“The Congress and the president have collectively been dysfunctional this session, so the voice of law enforcement has been but an echo in an empty chamber,” vented Jon Adler, the president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association Foundation. “The president blames every active-shooter atrocity on guns, and not the madness that triggers it. The donkeys and elephants urinate on every tree to mark their turf, but conduct no meaningful business in their kingdoms.”
“With the exception of a few members, Congress has been totally AWOL,” said Jim Pasco, the executive director for the National Fraternal Order of Police.
The facts back up their frustration: more than 100 gun control proposals have been proposed in Congress since Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot by a madman in Tucson in January 2011, per a CBS analysis—and not a single one has been passed into law.
“I don’t think Congress has figured out a way to do business in a bipartisan way with the best interest of the country in mind,” said Darrel Stephens, the executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. “We have not been as effective in recent years in accomplishing policy objectives such as universal background checks on firearms purchases or a response to the challenge of Going Dark and funding has suffered. But that has as much or more to do with the gridlock in Congress than it does with how effective our voice might be.”
No assault weapons ban. No background checks. No work on the terrorist watch list. In fact, hardly any progress to speak of on the federal level.
“The most important gun issue for law enforcement is trafficking and straw purchasers, and the Congress discards this like an irritating insect buzzing in their ear,” Adler added.
One of the factors contributing to law enforcement’s inability to press some initiatives into law is that law enforcement associations are fragmented. Currently, there are some 20 major national associations representing law enforcement interests—for sheriffs, for executives, for black officers, for SWAT teams, and so on.
Congressional leaders are engaging in some self-flagellation themselves. Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, a career law enforcement officer who is the chairman of the GOP Law Enforcement Task Force, sounded almost ashamed to be a federal politician.
“We set the example, for crying out loud. What is wrong with people. We’re leaders and we have to act like leaders, and there’s responsibility there,” Reichert told The Daily Beast.
And there was also the predictable petty partisanship. Democratic Rep. Al Green accused Republican Speaker Paul Ryan of abdicating his responsibilities—“Congress has refused to act on issues of importance to the American people. The speaker of the House has to be called on what he has failed to do. He has the political power here to call... the head of the FBI and demand that he account and [investigate]... that is his responsibility.”
“I almost feel uncomfortable even talking about it right now, because I want to cry,” said GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer, in the Speaker’s Lobby right off the floor of the House of Representatives. “When I walked out this morning, I couldn’t even walk by our cops here without being emotional.”
But, in the wake of the shooting in Dallas, there might a glimmer of hope that some of their concerns may soon be addressed. It is hope that, if the past is any indication, will be swiftly stomped out.
Reichert said that GOP Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy approached him during voting Friday and said that he wanted to talk more next week about reducing gun crime. Reichert also talked to civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat, on collaborating on some effort—perhaps an op-ed.
“If nothing could bring us together on all sides to talk about police and police violence—if this won’t do it, nothing will do it,” Cramer said.
The prevailing feeling on Capitol Hill was a combination of helplessness, shame, and grief.
“There’s no criminal record on this perpetrator,” so gun laws wouldn’t have stopped the shooting, Rep. Steve King told The Daily Beast.
National Tactical Officers Association Executive Director Mark Lomax praised Dallas Police Chief David Brown, who had a reputation for being proactive in community relations. The shooting, he said, was not something that could have been prevented from a law enforcement perspective.
“You can’t stop crazy,” Lomax said. “You can hopefully mitigate it. It was out of control of the positive things that Chief Brown was doing down there.”
With that said, it all sounded like empty rhetoric—especially considering Congress’ record of utter inaction.
“We need a leader who possesses the spirit and honor of Dr. Martin Luther King to step up with heartfelt conciliatory messaging and initiate meaningful steps to have all parties work together to defuse the bomb of hatred,” Adler told The Daily Beast. “Leadership matters, and unfortunately there ain’t none of it.”
—with additional reporting by Betsy Woodruff and Alexa Corse.