Let’s Not Move On

U.S. Capitol.

Once again, the political response to a mass shooting in this country is inadequate.

Common sense should be telling our elected leaders something needs to be done to curtail the sale of high capacity weapons to civilians, but nothing of the sort is being considered. Congress is taking its cues from the National Rifle Association — which in the immediate aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting — is willing only to discuss the possibility of outlawing a particular accessory that made it easier for the gunman to shoot over 500 innocent people over a span of about 15 minutes.

This is a token gesture by the NRA meant to give cover to politicians who feel pressure to do something in response to the shooting while staying true to the promise to gun advocates to do nothing meaningful to restrict gun ownership. It says our national leaders believe a few mass shootings a year is the price we should be willing to pay for a literal interpretation of the Second Amendment. Is that what you believe? Are you willing to be the next victim in order to protect the ability of someone you have never met to end your life while you attend a concert or a baseball game?

If this were a world in which members of Congress considered the facts and made their own independent decisions on policy, regardless of special interest arguments, a few ideas might be up for serious debate right now. We could limit the availability of high capacity weapons, we could ban the sale of accessories meant to turn guns sold for sporting purposes into weapons of war, we could ban the sale of the most lethal forms of ammunition currently on the market, place a heavy tax on ammunition, insist on more background checks, close any loopholes that make it easy to obtain weapons that are designed to kill large numbers of people as quickly as possible. We could limit the number of guns a person can own. It should all be open for discussion.

Honest debate requires a willingness to abandon the outdated idea that any move to restrict access to guns and ammunition is an assault on freedom. The give me liberty or give me death argument is giving us too much death and needs to be calibrated for the age we live in. The ideals that make America great will not be comprised by making our country safer from gun violence. Politicians need to be willing to put the safety of their constituents first. This is not too much to ask. It is the minimum standard we should expect from those we send to Washington or our state capitols to represent us.

Most dues paying members of the NRA, and similar groups, are willing to consider changes to the law that would curtail gun violence in this country. Members of Congress need to show courage on this issue. They need to be willing to lose an election to do the right thing, because failure to do so means their constituents may lose their lives.

Will new gun laws end gun violence? No. Our society is flooded with guns and they can’t be taken away. Many guns are in the hands of common criminals and those, who for a variety of reasons, evolve into the type of person willing to commit mass murder. But we have to begin somewhere if we are going to change the culture over time. We have to begin closing the door in the hope that it will make a difference in the future.

Fifty-eight people died in the shooting in Las Vegas on October 1. They were killed in the fashion of a soldier dying on a battlefield except they had no reason to think that was a possibility. They died because over the past several decades Congress and state legislatures, presidents and governors, have failed to pass common sense gun restrictions that would keep weapons of war out of the hands of civilians. They died because politicians have pledged loyalty to the specious arguments of special interest groups that buy off them off with campaign contributions.

Do the victims of Las Vegas represent a special interest? How about their families? What about the next victim? As I write this column, it is reasonable to believe that in a country of 323 million people, who own a total of 300 million guns, there is someone out there who is impressed by the Las Vegas shooting and would like to make a point, break a record, get noticed or go down in history by replicating what happened there somewhere else. Maybe in your hometown.

It should be a top priority to curtail the possibility of a repeat. The steps we take today may not stop the next mass shooting, but they might begin to end gun violence as an accepted feature of the American way.

I will be taking the next two weeks off and will return to medium.com October 28th. Thank you for your readership.