Can Jimmy Kimmel bring the same public fervor to gun control that he did to healthcare? The late-night host is clearly committed to trying.
On Thursday night, one day after a school shooting in Parkland, Florida killed 17 people and injured over a dozen more, Kimmel spoke out. Biting back tears, he called on lawmakers to do something—anything—to prevent this from happening again—and delivered a harsh rebuke to Donald Trump and the Republican party: “Don’t you dare let anyone say it’s too soon to be talking about it, because you said it after Vegas; you said it after Sandy Hook; you say that after every one of these eight now fatal school shootings we had in this country this year. Children are being murdered. We still haven’t even talked about it. You still haven’t done anything about it. You’ve literally done nothing. Actually, you’ve done worse than nothing.”
“You like to say this is a mental health issue,” Kimmel continued, “but one of your very first acts as president, Mr. Trump, was to actually roll back the regulations that were designed to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill. You did that. Your party voted to repeal the mandates on coverage for mental health. So I agree this is a mental illness issue, because if you don’t think we need to do something about it, you are obviously mentally ill.”
Following the mass shooting last fall in his hometown of Las Vegas, Kimmel delivered a tearful monologue in which he said, “A number of other lawmakers who won’t do anything about this because the N.R.A. has their balls in a money clip also sent their thoughts and their prayers today, which is good. They should be praying for God to forgive them for letting the gun lobby run this country.” It was one of the pivotal moments that have reshaped Kimmel’s image from a prankish but apolitical host into one of late-night’s most powerful voices of moral reason—the everyman who doesn’t understand policy minutiae as well as some of his peers, but who has a clear sense of right and wrong. The first of these moments came when Kimmel delivered a similarly emotional monologue following his newborn son’s heart surgery; Kimmel’s words had a tangible impact on the healthcare debate, and it’s worth wondering if Kimmel could become a similar force in the gun control debate, which has remained stagnant for years despite massacre after massacre ravaging American communities.
In responding to the shooting, the Trump said, “No child, no teacher, should ever be in danger in an American school. No parent should ever have to fear for their sons and daughters when they kiss them goodbye in the morning.” Kimmel agreed with both those statements, and offered a simple solution for the president: “Tell your buddies in Congress; tell Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and Marco Rubio—all the ‘family men’ who care so much about their communities—that what we need are laws, real laws, that do everything possible to keep assault rifles out of the hands of people who are going to shoot our kids. Go on TV and tell them to do that.”
Such a move, Kimmel continued, would be a perfect example of the common-sense, non-partisan approach the president was ostensibly going to bring with him to the White House. “It’s time to bring it,” Kimmel said. “We need it. Tell these congressmen and lobbyists who infest that swamp you said you were going to drain, force these allegedly Christian men and women who stuff their pockets with money from the N.R.A. year after year after year to do something now. Not later. Now.”
When an illegal immigrant causes a car accident, Kimmel pointed out, Trump springs into action, railing about the need to build a wall. “Why,” he wondered, “are you looking for solutions to that problem and not this one? Every reasonable American, Republican or Democrat, knows that something has to be done. Something. And we’re not doing anything.” The comedian directed his viewers to everytown.org, advising them to get in touch with their representatives—”and if they don’t listen,” he said, “vote them out of office. Whatever you do, do something. Because I for one am very, very, very, very tired of this.”
And to lawmakers? Kimmel wanted to make it very clear that no one is getting off the hook this time. “Somewhere along the line, these guys forgot they work for us. Not the N.R.A. Us. And this time, we’re not going to allow you to bow your head in prayer for two weeks, until you get it all clear and you move on to the next thing,” Kimmel said. “We’re going to make sure you do something this time.”
Get Vanity Fair’s HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Laura BradleyLaura Bradley is a Hollywood writer for VanityFair.com. She was formerly an editorial assistant at Slate and lives in Brooklyn.