POLITICS
12/14/2017 02:34 pm ET Updated Dec 14, 2017

5 Years Ago, A Man With A Gun Slaughtered 20 Children. And We Have Done Little About It.

We can either talk about gun control now, or wait for more children to die later.

“Now is not the time to talk about gun control.”

It’s an oft-used phrase uttered by gun rights activists nearly every time someone with a gun slaughters a number of innocent people. And when the most lethal modern mass shooting in the U.S. occurred earlier this year in Las Vegas, it was the White House itself that deflected talk about meaningful gun control legislation.

“There will certainly be a time for that policy discussion to take place, but that’s not the place that we’re in at this moment,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said following that massacre.

Five years ago on this day, a 20-year-old man with a gun walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and stole the lives of 20 children and six faculty members. The shooting prompted then-President Barack Obama to openly weep as he asked for more sensible gun control laws. Congress blocked his proposals instead. 

Twenty-seven angel figures were placed beside a road near the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec. 16
Mike Segar / Reuters
Twenty-seven angel figures were placed beside a road near the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec. 16, 2012. Two days earlier, a gunman who had killed his mother then massacred 26 people -- including 20 children -- at the school.

The prospect of sensible gun control legislation has only eroded since then.

Early in his term, President Donald Trump, with members of Congress, overturned a background check regulation put in place by Obama that made it harder for individuals with mental illnesses to legally access a gun.

Chris Cox, spokesman for the National Rifle Association, was thrilled.

“Today marks a new era for law-abiding gun owners, as we now have a president who respects and supports our right to keep and bear arms,” Cox said. “We are pleased that this example of government overreach will no longer be pursued.” 

The NRA, for all its chest-pounding about the right to own assault-style rifles, went into hiding following the Las Vegas shooting, where it took just one man with multiple guns to kill 58 people. NRA officials are unable, or unwilling, to see that moderate control of access to guns is what can save future lives. Instead, the powerful organization has shifted its focus to blame Hollywood or the Black Lives Matter movement for many of the problems this nation faces.

The NRA is so embedded in the fabric of Washington politics that some of those who once pushed for national gun control legislation are taking a new tactic by running for local offices. Nine volunteers for the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America ― started as a response to the Sandy Hook killings ― won positions this year in local government, Reuters reports.

Distraught leave the fire station after hearing news of their loved ones from officials December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connect
DON EMMERT via Getty Images
Distraught leave the fire station after hearing news of their loved ones from officials December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. 

“The reality is that the work doesn’t really start in Congress,” founder Shannon Watts told the new outlet. “That’s where it ends.”

In some states, anti-gun measures have been on the rise. Both New York and Connecticut passed legislation after Sandy Hook that toughened background-check requirements for gun purchases and expanded the firearms covered by assault weapon bans.

But other states have gone in a different direction, passing laws that allow people to carry concealed handguns without a permit. These include New Hampshire, Idaho, Mississippi and West Virginia.

And simply researching gun violence has scientists wary of potential pushback. David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, told Mother Jones that such work comes with a cost.

“There are so many big issues in the world, and the question is: Do you want to do gun research? Because you’re going to get attacked,” Hemenway told the publication. “No one is attacking us when we do heart disease.”

Even something so simple as banning bump stocks ― devices that make semi-automatic weapons function like machine guns and were used by the Las Vegas shooter ― has hit a dead end. Some gun manufacturers promised to suspend sale of the devices, which only caused an increase in demand. And a legislative ban proposed in Congress has stalled after (guess who?) the NRA came out against it.

The first action Congress took on firearm legislation under Trump occurred last week, when the House passed a bill that would require every state ― regardless of its laws ― to recognize another state’s concealed-carry gun permit.

“This vote marks a watershed moment for Second Amendment rights,” the NRA’s Cox said.

Despite his celebratory language, the measure is considered unlikely to make it through the Senate.

Still, perhaps the most sobering fact is this: While stock prices for American Airlines fell 39 percent following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, stock prices for guns skyrocket nearly every time a mass shooting happens.

Five years ago today, 20 children were slaughtered. We keep being told not to talk about gun control, but here’s the truth: We talk about gun control now, or more children die later. 

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