We are a nation that worships at the altar of the gun. And that idolatry is killing us. Killing us in our homes and schools and churches, the very places where we go to think and to pray. The mass public shooting has become a defining phenomenon of our age — a familiar ritual in which yet another group of innocent Americans die and are briefly mourned, but nothing changes.
Since the modern mass killing spree began at Columbine High School in 1999, some 150,000 students, attending at least 170 schools, have experienced a shooting on campus, according to an analysis from the Washington Post.
The most recent pin on the crowded map of tragedies is the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were slain on Wednesday.
No other country tolerates such atrocities, especially against its own children. No other democratic government is so beholden to the weapons industry that makes such murder sprees so deadly. No other free nation re-elects politicians, again and again and again, who thwart any measure to make these attacks less frequent.
President Trump, whose only move on gun control last February was to reverse an Obama-era regulation that made it harder for people with mental illness to purchase guns, tweeted that there were signs the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed.
About a year ago, according to the Associated Press, the Florida shooter legally purchased the semi-automatic assault rifle that he used to slaughter his former classmates.
While the president struggles mightily with the truth, he was nothing but honest when he told the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting last April: “You came through for me, and I am going to come through for you.”
The NRA, which now specializes in producing political propaganda for the administration, was promised the moon. “The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end,” Trump said. “You have a true friend and champion in the White House.” If only school children had such a powerful friend and champion.
Since that speech, three of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in US history have taken the lives of more than 100 Americans and wounded more than 500.
The single common thread between these three massacres is the weapons that were used, semi-automatic assault rifles. These are weapons that were designed to kill humans in combat, which lawmakers and weapons makers saw fit to release into the civilian population for fun and profit.
“You are never alone, and you never will be,” Trump told the nation’s children in a televised address Thursday. “You have people who care about you, who love you, and who will do anything at all to protect you.”
Anything but pass gun safety laws.
Reinstating the federal assault weapons ban would save lives and should be done immediately. But this Congress won’t do that. They can’t even find the time to ban bump-stocks, the devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire like fully automatic machine guns. This is pure negligence an abdication of moral and legal responsibility for fighting an epidemic from which no other nation suffers.
Voters have a chance this year to elect a Congress that will do more than offer thoughts and prayers. They should do so.
Massachusetts has banned bump stocks. It has also passed strict gun laws. And it has the lowest death rate from firearms in the nation. That is not a coincidence. Voters in other states — the majority of whom support stronger gun laws — should demand action at the state level, even as Washington’s indifference to this routine slaughter continues.
Lawmakers who could stop the carnage
Americans might have to come to terms with the fact that there may be no body count too high, no venue too sacred, no carnage too unspeakable to necessitate responsible controls of our society’s most lethal weapons. After a gunman in Las Vegas shot more than 500 people in a few minutes using a bump stock, even the National Rifle Association seemed to admit that the time had come to rein in guns. Yet the Senate’s bill to ban bump stocks has languished.
Indeed, the pro-gun Republican majority in Congress is on the offensive. They are pushing one bill that would deregulate silencers and another that would allow concealed carry permits to be transferred from state to state. That means a permit obtained in a state with weak gun laws would be valid in a state with stronger restrictions.
Advocates have the best chance at defeating that legislation and moving the bump stock ban forward in the Senate. Below is a list of six key senators — four Democrats and two Republicans — who have voted with the gun lobby in the past. Some, up for re-election next year, can be prodded to change their positions or should be pushed out of office. Others, who are retiring, may feel more free to vote their conscience without a re-election looming.
JOE MANCHIN (D-W.VA.)
Manchin coauthored bipartisan legislation to expand background checks for gun sales in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., suggesting he’s open to gun control measures. But the measure failed in 2013. And early last year, he voted for a repeal of an Obama administration regulation that prevented some mentally impaired people from buying firearms.
Contact Senator Manchin: Tweet @Sen_JoeManchin or call his Washington office at 202-224-3954.
HEIDI HEITKAMP (D-N.D.)
Heitkamp was one of a handful of Democrats to vote against the expanded background check legislation after Sandy Hook. She was also one of 13 Democrats who voted for the 2013 version of the concealed carry reciprocity bill, making her a key figure in the renewed fight over the issue.
Contact Senator Heitkamp: Tweet @SenatorHeitkamp or call her Washington office at 202-224-2043.
DEAN HELLER (R-NEV.)
Heller was endorsed by the National Rifle Association in his last election. But polls show he could have real trouble winning reelection. And the Las Vegas shooting, in his home state, should ratchet up the pressure to shift his position on guns.
Contact Senator Heller: Tweet @SenDeanHeller or call his Washington office at 202-224-6244.
JEFF FLAKE (R-ARIZ.)
Flake is a staunch opponent of gun control. But he’s also announced that he won’t seek reelection. Not only is Flake now free from having to fund-raise, his public break with the president means that he’s free from blind partisan loyalty as well. Flake spoke eloquently on the Senate floor about the “alarming and dangerous state of affairs” under the Trump administration. The same is equally true about the arsenal of assault weapons in civilian hands.
Contact Senator Flake: Tweet @JeffFlake or call his Washington office at 202-224-4521.
JOE DONNELLY (D-IND.)
Donnelly enjoys a 93 percent rating from the NRA. He opposes an assault weapons ban and was one of only four Democrats who voted last year to overturn the Obama-era rule preventing some mentally impaired individuals from buying firearms. According to a Washington Post analysis, he has received more money from the NRA than any other member of Congress from his state.
Contact Senator Donnelly: Tweet @SenDonnelly or call his Washington office at 202-224-4814.
JON TESTER (D-MONT.)
Tester voted for the 2013 version of the concealed carry bill. But last spring, the National Rifle Association targeted him for voting against the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, whom the organization called “a highly-qualified, pro-Second Amendment” nominee for the Supreme Court.
Contact Senator Tester: Tweet @SenatorTester or call his Washington office at 202-224-2644.
Gun money gets results
The National Rifle Association wields extraordinary clout in our society. And it’s not all reflected in the large amount of money it spends on politics. The group spent about $54 million during the 2016 political cycle — with $37 million going to oppose Democratic candidates and $17 million in support of Republican candidates.
In addition to guns, the NRA has rebranded itself into a vanguard of the culture wars, releasing a series of apocalyptic-themed videos this summer starring conservative political commentator Dana Loesch. In one video, Loesch threatens The New York Times, saying it is “fake news” and that the NRA is “coming for you.” Another video defends President Donald Trump from all manner of liberal boogeymen — Hollywood, the free press, public schools. The NRA, Loesch concludes, is “freedom’s safest place.” A bizarre new NRA video released a few days ago features a conservative talk radio show host smashing a television.
Not only does the NRA ride herd on politicians to never give an inch on gun control, it’s also become an explicitly political force pushing the GOP towards ever more radical firearm absolutism. As such, they’ve become the lead negotiators on the issue of guns for a segment of the American population fanatically committed to the idea that assault weapons in civilian hands makes the country safer, when all the bloody evidence points to the opposite conclusion.