As he headed off Wednesday morning to Dayton and El Paso to console the most recent American communities ravaged by mass shootings, President Trump paused on the White House lawn to talk with reporters. He told them that while there might be political support for federal legislation mandating more stringent background checks for gun buyers, he did not believe there was “appetite” in Congress for a ban on civilian possession of high-capacity magazines and combat-style weapons. “So far,” he said, “I have not seen that.”
May we suggest that he ask the American people — nearly two-thirds of whom support such a ban — instead of Congress, which remains under the thumb of the National Rifle Association? The NRA, as everybody knows, won’t be happy until babies come out of the womb packing side arms.
Pardon our cynicism, but the blood is barely dry in Ohio and Texas — 31 dead, more than 50 wounded or injured — and Trump and his Republican enablers in Congress are already back to pooh-poohing reasonable proposals for confronting our now-routine mass shootings.
Guns, as usual, are not the problem, in their view. “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger,” Trump said, “not the gun.”
Never mind that absent the gun, people with “mental illness and hatred” would have a lot more trouble amassing large numbers of victims in a short period of time. Our rates of mental illness are not significantly different from those in other nations, yet our access to firearms and our levels of gun violence most certainly are.
To be fair, there are finally some Republicans who are now, under the pressure of day after day of senseless violence, talking about some small steps that could be taken on gun control, such as passing so-called red flag laws. But really it is almost an insult to the dead to call for something so rudimentary and inadequate at a moment like this.
Red flag laws, such as the one we have in California (along with 16 other states), are fine policy. But frankly, it’s flabbergasting that they aren’t already the law all across the country. Of course a judge should be able to order guns temporarily removed from people whose own families believe they are exhibiting signs that they are unstable and might endanger themselves or others. Even many gun enthusiasts recognize the logic of that. These laws are carefully constructed to preserve the gun owner’s due process rights. By all means, let’s pass them — but let’s not then pat ourselves on the back for having solved the problem.
Besides, it’s a bit of a red herring. Adopting red flag laws is not within the purview of Congress; states establish such laws. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), is pushing a measure to make grants available to states to develop such policies. Lovely. Do it.
Meanwhile, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has been one of the biggest obstacles in Washington to the adoption of sensible gun laws, issued one of the most tepid statements imaginable after speaking to three Senate committee chairs.
“I asked them to reflect on the subjects the president raised within their jurisdictions and encouraged them to engage in bipartisan discussions of potential solutions to help protect our communities without infringing on Americans’ constitutional rights,” McConnell said.
“Reflect on” is hardly a call to action. “Bipartisan discussions” are not action either. McConnell’s statement sounds like just another “refer it to committee” response to a pervasive and disturbing aspect of contemporary American life: Too many people with too easy access to firearms killing themselves, family members, neighbors, coworkers and strangers.
It’s not as though the nation is flummoxed over what Congress needs to do. Federally mandated universal background checks are a minimal step — there’s nothing onerous in having to prove that you are eligible to own a firearm before being allowed to buy one. A federal ban on assault weapons is another rational step. There is no legitimate reason for civilians to own semi-automatic rifles using high-capacity magazines. Just because some people have fun blasting away with them at firing ranges isn’t sufficient cause to keep them legal. More than 1 in 4 mass shooting incidents since 1982 involved combat-style rifles.
But for the moment, it seems, nothing of substance will happen. Again. As has been noted too many times before, when Washington failed to respond with meaningful gun laws in the wake of the massacre of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, it became distressingly clear that the NRA — and a bizarre belief that Americans need to be armed to stop tyranny — carries more weight than the dead bodies of slaughtered children. Apparently, that is still the case.