Newtown. Las Vegas. Sutherland.
Toddlers massacred, country music fans mowed down, worshippers slaughtered.
This is our new America and we should be ashamed.
I no longer agree with the aphorism that a picture is worth a thousand words. A work colleague said to me this week that after Newtown, our failure to take action defined our country. “If dead kids can’t move us, then that is who we are,” she said. My mind flashed to the sickening rhetoric of Bill O’Reilly who blithely blogged after the Las Vegas shooting – the most horrific shooting in modern American history – “This is the price of freedom.”
I refuse to accept that. We cannot accept that. We must hold our leaders accountable and where possible elevate this issue so they fear punishment at the polls for their gutless inaction. As any first year law student knows, action and inaction are often interchangeable when it comes to making policy. And here in Washington, our government’s inaction on the plague of gun violence places Americans at risk each and every day.
But it’s worse than inaction. Republican leaders, praying at the altar of the National Rifle Association and captive to its fundraising power, actively ostracize and shame elected officials who suggest any gun control reforms. Those seeking to promote a discussion on sensible solutions are decried as callous and opportunistic and accused of politicizing people’s deaths. The opponents of reform use this tactic to shame those who seek solutions and to arm their allies with talking points to avoid directly addressing the subject. For they hope, that after Newtown, after Las Vegas, after Sutherland, Americans will return to their daily lives, the phone lines on Capitol Hill will die down, and the NRA will continue to fund the GOP in Washington and across the America, provided they stand strong – against the very citizenry they took an oath to protect.
Those opposed to reform – when they aren’t shaming calls for gun control – often resort to diversionary tactics. Guns don’t kill people they say, people do. It’s not a gun problem that caused Sutherland, President Trump said; it’s a mental health problem. But both can be true.
Often people with mental health problems succumb to the scourge of illegal drugs. But do we hear our leaders say “heroin doesn’t kill people, people do”? No, we criminalize heroin.
Another common diversionary refrain is that gun control is useless because those bent on doing violence will find a way. Senate Majority Leader McConnell said just after Sutherland that “it’s hard to envision a foolproof way to prevent individual outrages by evil people.” Really? So we should do nothing? Do we hear our generals say we shouldn’t pursue ISIS because some terrorists will be successful anyway, because you can’t stop all evil? No, we do everything we can, and even that is not enough.
It appears that some Americans are waking up to this political game of charades. Exit polls in Ralph Northam’s impressive rout of Ed Gillespie in the Virginia governor’s race showed gun policy as the number two issue on the minds of voters. There is a growing interest in meaningful and substantive reform. So what can we do?
Off the bat, Democrats need to acknowledge the sincere views of Americans on the other side of the debate. Listening before acting is the first prerequisite to successful compromise. Gun-loving Americans believe that the 2nd Amendment protects their right to buy as many guns as they want. There are also many Americans, more than most liberals believe, that purchase guns to protect them against potential tyranny of the state. And, perhaps most importantly, most strong defenders of the 2nd Amendment don’t believe gun control advocates want to stop at minimally invasive reform. We won’t stop at background checks and a ban on bump stocks, they say. Rather, those reforms – which assuredly are supported by a vast majority of Americans – are suspiciously viewed as just the tip of the iceberg and the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent. Once enacted, and after the next mass shooting proves they didn’t change anything, 2nd Amendment enthusiasts argue policy makers will turn to all that’s left – biometric markers, expensive gun registries, forced gun buybacks, and eventually, taking away their guns themselves.
Democrats need to do more than insist that the government will never take away guns from law abiding citizens. Democrats need to convince the opponents of gun control that it is actually true.
If we can – here is a ready-made list of potential reforms:
- Robust background checks for all purchases.
- Enhanced measures and research to combat the link between mental instability and lethal violence.
- A uniform mental health registry so all states and the federal government can work together to prevent people like the Sutherland killer from getting guns in the first place.
- A resurrection of the assault weapons ban (mass shootings occurred less often when the ban was in place).
- Closing the gun show loophole.
- A ban on bump stocks (the tool by which the Vegas killer was able to spray the crowd with hundreds of bullets per minute).
- A ban on sales to those convicted of domestic abuse.
- A ban on sales to those on the terror watch list.
- Strong due process protections for all of the above so people have recourse to get a gun if they are wrongly prohibited from doing so because of a mistake on a government list.
- Tax credits for gun donations to the government or a gun buyback program.
The above lost is not exhaustive, nor will gun control stop all gun violence. But the American people believe Washington is dysfunctional and not acting in their interest. Meaningful compromise on gun control that respects and recognizes the importance of our 2nd Amendment rights would be an important step to changing that perception.