ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
"God Isn't Fixing This." That's the cover of today's New York Daily News about the San Bernardino shooting. Many on the political left have shared that cover on Facebook and Twitter. They're critical of conservative politicians offering thoughts and prayers but stifling action on gun control. Of course, many Democrats have also offered thoughts and prayers, including President Obama, but the argument that it's an inadequate response has itself become politically controversial. NPR's Sarah McCammon joins me now. She just spent the day with many GOP presidential candidates. How you doing?
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Good. How're you?
SIEGEL: It seems politicians used to wait a little before weighing in on the issues after a tragedy - no more?
MCCAMMON: Yeah. You know, since the Sandy Hook shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., almost exactly three years ago, there's been rising frustration on the left over a lack of action on gun control. And we're hearing more immediate, more intense reactions from elected officials, chiefly President Obama. So after the shooting at an Oregon college in October, he came out that day. He said this is political. He said, you know, someone will comment and say, Obama politicized this issue, but this is something we should politicize.
Then last night, we saw online Chris Murphy, a senator from Connecticut who's advocated for gun control in the wake of Newtown - he said on Twitter, your thoughts should be about steps to stop this carnage; your prayers should be for forgiveness if you do nothing again. Then there was the New York Daily News headline "God Isn't Fixing This," and that's turned into a hashtag - so a lot of emotion about this issue. I should say, at the same time, conservatives are saying, we do want to take action. They just have different ideas of what that should be - for instance, focusing on mental health care.
SIEGEL: You were at a presidential forum hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition with all of the GOP candidates and many of their supporters. What did you hear?
MCCAMMON: Well, candidates largely avoided the whole prayer-shaming controversy as, people are calling this criticism of responding to mass shootings with calls for prayer. Texas senator Ted Cruz, while acknowledging that details are still coming in about the San Bernardino shootings, he was quick to bring up terrorism both at home and abroad. Here's what Senator Cruz said.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TED CRUZ: This horrific murder underscores that we are at a time of war. Whether or not the current administration realizes it or is willing to knowledge it, our enemies are at war with us.
MCCAMMON: And those comments by Senator Cruz seemed to go over well with the audience. Voters I talked to - and these are Republican Jewish voters - said they think prayer is an appropriate and natural response to these situations. Several said, of course we have to do more, but more gun control may not be the answer. And some were very concerned. A lot of them were very concerned about the threat of terrorism at home and abroad and really wanting to hear presidential candidates take that issue on.
SIEGEL: So have you sensed any movement at all by politicians on guns, any bridging of the partisan divide?
MCCAMMON: Well, this prayer shaming could actually be making things worse. So Dr. Russell Moore is the head of Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He said in The Washington Post that the don't-just-pray, do-something meme could actually keep anything from happening on the issue of gun control. He said it's just making our country more ideologically fractured. And, quote, "if you shame away the most human aspects of public life, such as the call to pray for one another, you will find this situation worsening, not getting better."
So Robert, a lot of religious conservatives find this kind of rhetoric offensive and dismissive of their faith, and it's hard to make progress when there's that kind of division. At the same time, President Obama is calling for a time of reflection, lowering flags in honor of the victims of the shooting in California. But he's made it clear that he's not giving up on pushing Congress to take action on guns.
SIEGEL: OK, Sarah. Thank you.
MCCAMMON: Thank you.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.