Three Republican U.S. senators have filed a bill to ratchet up penalties against anyone who intentionally targets the police, a response to the deadly shooting that left five officers dead in Dallas last week.
Sens. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) filed a bill Wednesday to make attempting or conspiring to kill a law enforcement officer or judge a federal crime punishable by up to 30 years in jail, with lesser penalties for assaulting such officials or trying to flee prosecution by crossing state lines. In states that have capital punishment, the murder of a police officer could also trigger a death sentence.
But the bill could create political tensions over other provisions, such as expanded permission to law enforcement officers to carry guns into places where they are otherwise prohibited. The legislation would also limit the time federal courts have to consider challenges to convictions in state court involving murders of officers, as well as the type of damages people engaged in felonies can try to claim for injuries suffered.
The bill comes as Washington grapples not just with the aftermath of Dallas but also how to deal with fatal shootings at the hands of police. Last week’s police-involved shooting deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile of Minnesota sparked nationwide demonstrations protesting the deaths of black people especially at the hands of authorities, including one at the Capitol. It was at such a protest in Dallas that five officers were killed.
Those shootings and protests have come up at the same time that Congress is faced with a fierce gun-control debate that has pitted the parties against each other but will not be resolved before the end of the week, when lawmakers leave Washington for the summer.
In the aftermath of the Dallas shooting, leaders in both parties called for a moratorium on divisive political rhetoric. But the parties remain sharply divided about the appropriate response to the tragedies.
Democrats, and particularly members of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Congress would be responsible for the “bloodshed on the streets” if it did not redouble efforts to pass legislation restricting firearms purchases.
But GOP leaders in the House decided the political moment was too tense to press on with plans to force a vote, even on an NRA-backed measure first proposed by Cornyn to limit suspected terrorists’ ability to purchase guns, which was opposed by conservative Republicans and Democrats.
Many lawmakers have also called for a more serious conversation about how racial stereotyping has contributed to the tensions between authorities and the communities they police. On Wednesday, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who is black, spoke about his personal experience being targeted by police because of the color of his skin — even after becoming a senator.
Cornyn’s police bill also addresses grants to help improve relations between law enforcement officials and communities. He said Wednesday that there were clear reasons to pursue the bill as part of the congressional response to Dallas.
“The one thing we need to do, absolutely, is to come together to show our support for those who get up every morning, put on the badge, and walk out the door, not knowing if they’ll come home at the end of the day,” Cornyn said in a statement. “We can do that by sending a clear message that America will not tolerate those who seek to kill those who are duty-bound to defend us.”
But with lawmakers leaving Washington for nearly two months at the end of the week, it is unlikely the measure will receive a vote anytime soon.