Fifty-nine bodies are in the Clark County morgue, and hundreds more are in the hospital, and so once again, we are told, it is time to come together. We must come together, united, as one.
It sounds right, this coming-together thing — just what we need in a time of crushing sadness. We should do that! We should all just come together!
How? That’s unclear, and White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn’t really elaborate. Say, for the purposes of this discussion, you were entirely ready and willing to come together in the wake of this latest violent nightmare. Would you even know how to begin coming together? Is it, like, a social media thing? Or do you actually go somewhere and do something?
And coming together couldn’t possibly entail uniting behind something that might actually have prevented some or all of these deaths. We know that’s not what coming together means because a lot of us have already come together on that particular issue. Majorities of people on both ends of the political spectrum already agree that assault-style weapons should be banned, that background checks should be universal, and that a federal database should track gun sales.
Just this year, a Pew Research Center survey on gun control showed that Americans of all political persuasions are, in fact, united on a handful of simple reforms that experts say would help prevent some mass shootings and suppress the death toll of some others. Republicans and those who lean right were split on whether high capacity magazines should be outlawed, but it was close. A sizable majority of Americans don’t believe that firing dozens of rounds from a high powered semiautomatic long gun without stopping to reload should be legal.
On these issues, we’ve already come together. It’s just that some of the people who seem most interested in getting us to come together are politicians who haven’t joined us. And if “come together” doesn’t actually mean finding consensus in any coherent way, then what does it mean? “Come together, over here, to my way of thinking. Come together behind the demonstrably unpopular and terrible status quo.”
Come together has become code for “do nothing.”
It’s easy to be fatalistic about gun control. There’s a popular line of thinking that says nothing will prompt meaningful measures to restrict access to particularly dangerous weapons if the massacre of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., didn’t move that needle.
But that’s not necessarily true. How many people died of lung cancer before we cracked down on smoking? It took decades, and it’s still going. Millions die or are injured in car crashes, and we don’t throw up our hands — we pass seat belt laws and ban texting and set up drunken driving checkpoints.
That imperfect progress took decades, too, but it eventually overcame the same kind of massive industry lobbying effort by auto manufacturers and tobacco companies that now fights any new limits on gun ownership. Eventually, as more and more of us come together — not with those who support the status quo, but in opposition to them — perhaps we’ll begin to make the same progress on this sort of gun crime.
But if you’re in the tiny fraction of Americans who believe that military-style weapons with huge magazines capable of inflicting widespread death in seconds should be legal, then stop telling the rest of us to come together, now and after the next Las Vegas and the next one after that.
If that’s you, then you come together. Because we’re already together. We’re right over here. Join us. Check your assault weapons at the door.Nestor Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.