June 2, 2022
With the horror of children and teachers being shot down in Uvalde, Texas still fresh in our psyches and the horror of the killing of shoppers and security personnel in Buffalo, New York having not yet old news, NPR reporters asked 100 Senators a simple question: “What action, if any, do you think should be taken on guns, following the school shooting in Texas?“
These latest “mass killings” are just two more events in the long history of a nation trying to figure out why we are so violent and decide whether we care about it. They come at a time when we live with fewer and fewer limitations on gun possession, a proliferation of guns across the nation, and a government system increasingly willing to interpret the words of the Constitution’s 2nd Amendment, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.,” as a free pass for individuals wishing to own, carry and use weapons of all sizes, shapes and lethality.
In Responding to NPR’s question our Senators have told us just how broken our political system is.
Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) whose vote and whose opposition to removing or even modifying the filibuster has been critical to stymying much of the Democratic party’s legislative objectives said this:
“We have to reach across the bench, but we can’t politicize it. It has to be done in such a practical way that just makes sense. We have Democrats and Republicans who have had different ideas, some good legislation. I’ve been working on Manchin-Toomey for many, many years. But there’s other senators, too, on the Republican side that had some ideas to put into one good holistic type of piece of legislation. And everybody talks about, ‘Oh, you can’t get this or you can’t get that or get rid of the filibuster here or do this.’ If we can’t get 70 or 75 senators that won’t vote for the common sense protection of your children and grandchildren, what in the world are you here for? What’s your purpose for being in the United States Senate if it’s not at least to protect the children? … Background checks is something that doesn’t infringe. It is common sense to gun owners. I come from a gun state, as you know. It’s common sense. We’ve talked about that. We’ve talked about the red flag. It’s worked. It’s worked in states such as Florida. It’s been very effective. There’s good things. Mental illness. We’ve talked about what we can do to identify and make sure that we’re sharing this information. There’s a lot of solid things that will work, and we need to look at those and basically get a piece of legislation that we know that we can show that we can be united to protect our children.”
Will he and his colleagues even consider the data that tells us we have just too many guns for this to be a safe place to live? We are the world’s most armed nation, by a long shot. More than 397 million guns are privately owned, that is 1.2 guns per man, woman, and child in our nation. This level about doubles that of our nearest “competitor” for this “honor,” the Falkland Islands. Other industrialized nations rank well below that level. In terms of how guns are used to kill and maim, our rate of gun violence is more extreme when compared to other industrialized countries.
We are the outlier and we are unwilling to consider that so many guns relate to so many shootings. It seems so obvious to me, looking across the world, that we just have too many guns in private hands for us to be safe. Yet we will see, over the coming days, Congress and the President following Sen Manchin’s “wisdom” go looking for something they can agree upon that will provide them to look like they are being responsive. And we can be sure it will not involve taking away guns.
We will hear Senators like Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn advise us we should agree to “harden” up our schools and other “soft” targets. ““We must take meaningful steps to protect our children and that begins with enhancing physical security at schools. There is already roughly $100 billion sitting in the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund that can be used for this purpose. In addition, schools should have secured, limited entry points, and increased funding for school resource officers. School officials with prior military or law enforcement experience should be allowed to carry firearms.” Better to become even more of a bunker state than challenge our gun super-saturated society.
There will be much talk about how we can focus on the shooter. Some like Missouri’s Josh Hawley will want us to see this as just a crime and punishment story. “I believe the time has come to increase penalties for violent crimes and crimes committed with firearms. We must also fully fund our police and local law enforcement and give them the resources they need to keep our kids safe.” Others will, like Utah’s Mitt Romney, want to weed out dangerous people without limiting anyone else’s right to be armed to the teeth. “Background checks and updating our background check technology is something that I think is an appropriate federal responsibility. I’ll be looking at Toomey-Manchin and seeing how that would apply and whether or not I could support that or whether there might be some amendments to that that would make it more acceptable. I also think that red flag laws make a lot of sense. I think states are wise to adopt those. I think they’d have to be effectively administered at the state level.”
On the Democratic side, there are Senators who want to go further, restricting the ownership of assault rifles and making large ammunition clips illegal. They want to go even further in tightening gun registration and regulating gun sellers. But they do not want to challenge the basic right to own a weapon nor to significantly reduce the number of guns in our society.
As horrific as the mass shootings are, as much as every politician will be on record with their sympathy for victims, as much as they say they want to ensure that we will not live through this again, no one is brave enough to tell us the truth, that we just have too many guns on the street for us to be safe.
Hawaii’s Senator Hirono might have come closest to recognizing that this gun debate (or is it debacle) is just the symptom of a broken political system when she told NPR “ “I’m horrified and heartbroken for the Uvalde community and our nation. It’s been nearly 10 years since Sandy Hook, and still, our children are getting gunned down in our schools. We cannot wait any longer to pass the common-sense gun safety bills already passed in the House, which would expand background checks and help prevent senseless murders. Democrats have been fighting to get this done for years. Eliminating the filibuster and electing more Democrats will help us finally do so. What is it going to take for Republicans to find the basic humanity to help us end this nightmare?”
But even she misses how broken her message is when not one Senator is ready to stand up and say what Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau said just days ago, “One Canadian killed by gun violence is one too many. I’ve seen all too well the tragic cost that gun violence has in our communities across the country. Today, we’re proposing some of the strongest measures in Canadian history to keep guns out of our communities and build a safer future for everyone.”
And not one of our leaders is brave enough to propose the policy changes, in a country without our gun violence epidemic, that he proposed to back his words with action:
Implementing a national freeze on handguns to prevent individuals from bringing newly acquired handguns into Canada and from buying, selling, and transferring handguns within the country.
Taking away the firearms licenses of those involved in acts of domestic violence or criminal harassment, such as stalking.
Fighting gun smuggling and trafficking by increasing criminal penalties, providing more tools for law enforcement to investigate firearms crimes, and strengthening border security measures.
Addressing intimate partner violence, gender-based violence, and self-harm involving firearms by creating a new “red flag” law that would enable courts to require that individuals considered a danger to themselves or others surrender their firearms to law enforcement while protecting the safety of the individual applying to the red-flag process, including by protecting their identity. In addition, the government will invest $6.6 million to help raise awareness of the new law and provide support to vulnerable and marginalized groups to navigate the provisions.
We have a broken system that cannot act. We have a lack of leaders who are willing to tell us the truth and risk the consequences. Is it so hard to stand up and say that we must stop selling guns designed for the battlefield? Is it so hard to tell us that every person allowed to own a weapon must be licensed? Is it so hard to tell us that we have too many guns in circulation and we are going to take them back? Is it too hard to tell us that we are not living in the America of 1776 and we cannot be bound to what the words of the 2nd Amendment might have meant to the men who wrote those words?
As long as we tolerate this, we are going to continue to live through repeated moments of national trauma, and the crocodile tears of our leaders. We need to demand that our representatives and our senators stop playing politics, tell us the truth about what it will take to fix the problems that we face and what changes we need to make in the systems that govern us to ensure we have a working, humane democracy, one where the voice of the people is actually heard and respected.