The latest revelations about the police response to the deadly elementary school rampage in Uvalde, Texas, threaten to upend the drive to make gun control the central issue, as law enforcement's reluctance to engage the shooter could increase public reliance on self-defense.

When President Joe Biden addressed the Texas school shooting at the top of his remarks at a police reform executive order signing, it seemed like bad timing. The White House had been trying to bolster its credibility on law enforcement for months, and a new gun control push was going to count heavily on trust in the police to protect citizens.

Now, that trust is going to be as hotly debated as guns. A Border Patrol agent has been credited with shooting and killing the Texas shooter, but it appears it took law enforcement 90 minutes to stop the attack after the first calls to police came in Tuesday morning.


Democrats aren’t letting up on gun control. Money is pouring into the campaign coffers of anti-gun candidates. Biden is likely to showcase firearms policy when he visits Uvalde on Sunday. Senate Democrats are poised to take up gun control legislation even if negotiations with the chamber’s Republicans fail.

Beto O’Rourke has decided to make guns and Uvalde the animating issue in his long-shot challenge to Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX). Sensing a vulnerability, some Republicans pulled out of the National Rifle Association convention, which Democrats and left-wing activists protested.

“Andy Harris has blood on his hands,” a fundraising email by Dave Harden, Democratic challenger to Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) begins. “Every single time that our congressman has had a chance to support responsible gun safety laws, and save the lives of innocent people, he has sided with the NRA, the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and the rest of his far right political base.”

But gun control no longer commands the Uvalde headlines by itself. If people fear the police will not protect them or their children, it may make them turn against policies they believe could disarm them.

“It’s not good for the narrative,” a Republican operative said of the scrutiny of the police. “Democrats who thought this was campaign gold may be thinking twice now.”

“The existence of evil in our world is not a reason to disarm law-abiding citizens,” former President Donald Trump said in his speech to the NRA. “The existence of evil is one of the very best reasons to arm law-abiding citizens."

The politics of gun control has always been complicated. Many individual policies, such as background checks and bans on specific weapons, poll well. That hasn’t made the issue a clear-cut winner at the ballot box for proponents, however.

The case in point is the federal assault weapons ban Biden helped pass over NRA opposition as a senator in 1994, to which he has frequently pointed as president. Polls showed strong bipartisan support at the time. But its enactment was among a cluster of issues that cost Democrats control of Congress that November, ushering in the first Republican House majority in 40 years. Democrats in rural, gun-owning districts lost their seats in large numbers.

The assault weapons ban lapsed in 2004. Democrats didn't try as hard to bring it back, even when controlling Congress, as they are now with Biden in the White House. Democrats enjoyed a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate for part of former President Barack Obama’s first year in office. They did not take up the ban.

Gun control was discussed in the aftermath of school shootings under presidents of both parties, including those in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, and Parkland, Florida, which both became significant catalysts of anti-gun activism. No legislation was passed on the federal level. The 1999 Columbine massacre took place while the assault weapons ban was still in effect.


Republicans are heavily favored in this year’s midterm elections as Democrats look to defend slim majorities in both houses of Congress. Biden’s job approval ratings are low amid record inflation, cooling economic growth, rising interest rates, baby formula scarcity, and the southern border problem.

Democrats hope to seize on issues such as guns and abortion, in the wake of a possible reversal of Roe v. Wade by a conservative-dominated Supreme Court, to give themselves a fighting chance. They plan to highlight what they regard as the GOP’s extreme “ultra-MAGA” positions on both hot-button topics.