Where the hell is our congressional delegation?
A dozen people were shot dead in Colorado last week for simply going to the wrong movie at the wrong time. Another 58 were injured, some of them gravely.
The killer used an AR-15 assault rifle fed by a high-capacity magazine, neither of which has any place in a civilized society — both of which were legally purchased. The gun and the clip were prohibited during the Clinton-era assault weapons ban that Congress allowed to expire in 2004.
Legislation has been languishing in Washington since last year’s Tucson massacre to outlaw lunatic gun clips that hold more than 10 bullets at a time. Add in the fact that the alleged killer, with his freakish orange hair and absent eyes, was a veritable poster boy for stronger national gun laws. The result should be a hue and cry, far and wide, for the type of sensible gun policies that could save lives.
And in that regard, there’s nobody better to lead on the issue than the members of the Massachusetts delegation. This state has some of the strongest and most successful gun laws in America. We have an assault weapons ban. We have safety training requirements, licensing, registration, and a waiting period.
And we also have something else. Massachusetts has, per capita, the lowest rate of gun-related fatalities of any state in the nation – number 50, with 3.14 annual deaths per 100,000 people. The national average is 10.19 deaths. The worst state, Louisiana, has 18.03 deaths.
Think about this. We are an industrial state with a congested city. We are bordered by Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, states that have no gun controls to speak of. And fewer people die here than anywhere else from firearms. And there’s really a debate over whether stronger gun laws work?
Yet, not a single member of our decreasingly relevant congressional delegation is pounding the podium, highlighting our successes, telling Washington to get its act together before another James Holmes (Aurora), Jared Loughner (Tucson), Malik Nadal Hasan (Fort Hood), or Seung-Hui Cho (Virginia Tech) comes to a theater, mall, or campus near you.
“It could be Dorchester next, or Brighton, or Roxbury,” Mayor Thomas M. Menino barked into the phone Tuesday. “Why does our leadership fail to act?”
I asked if there’s a member of the state’s congressional delegation to whom he can turn for help. “No,” Menino replied.
It’s certainly not Republican Senator Scott Brown, who said this week that he favors state solutions over national policy — as if every state is protected by high walls and metal detectors. The Democrats say the right things and vote the right way. But they are muted followers, not leaders, joining the rest of the Congress in collective cowering to the National Rifle Association.
“We don’t have one single leader in our delegation willing to ask the question: Why can criminals and Al Qaeda buy guns undetected in 33 states?” said John Rosenthal, the region’s go-to guy on gun issues and the head of Stop Handgun Violence.
Maybe none of this is surprising. Representative Steve Lynch once described a proposed assault weapons ban in the State House as “feel-good legislation.” Representative John Tierney, with his felon wife, fugitive brother-in-law, and absurd explanations, is hemorrhaging credibility.
We could go on. Representative Ed Markey, the certified adult in the delegation who once led a ban of Chinese assault weapons, said Tuesday, “It’s not that there’s not passion on the issue. There is.” But he added that members defer to Carolyn McCarthy, the New York congresswoman whose husband was gunned down in the Long Island Railroad massacre in 1993.
Representative Barney Frank explained, “With Republicans in power, there’s no chance of getting anything passed, and there are only a limited number of hours in the day.”
All of which is profoundly unsatisfying. There is an important story to be told from Massachusetts, and no member of Congress from Massachusetts willing to tell it.