The time for common sense gun laws is now.
Always has been.
But solutions are never so simple as a quick bit of rhetorical flourish. Whether a new gun law is "common sense" depends on the details, and whose "sense" is viewed as common. In the hours and days after last week's attack on people attending a country music festival in Las Vegas, details were few.
That didn't stop a lot of folks from trying to apply preconceived ideas about guns limits. Author J.D. Vance, who wrote Hillbilly Elegy, tweeted a sarcastic observation of what people were doing not long after the shooting ended: "I don't know any of the details of what happened in Las Vegas, but I am sure that all of them support the opinions I already had."
We're guilty as charged. Vance accurately describes our social media-induced human nature in 21st century America. The problem is people mistake that for communication. Our current idea of discussion is giving two people amplified megaphones, pointing them toward one another then instructing them to express themselves, at the same time.
"Bad people are going to do bad things," said Paul Ryan, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, after dismissing any legislative moves as too soon after the violence.
He's right. Bad people will do bad things. Heck, good people do bad things sometime. But all of that is quite beside the point. Even in our crazy era of Grand Canyon-sized divisions, I suspect we might be able to get vast majorities to agree to such a bold observation. Thanks, Capt. Obvious.
Ryan was making excuses, kicking the congressional can down a road so littered it could be mistaken for an Allen's Canning Co. warehouse.
I'm a gun owner, folks. And as with many gun owners, responsible use of firearms is among the most critical concerns. There is nothing responsible about a man stockpiling weapons and equipping them to fire as rapidly as Stephen Paddock did from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
Lawmakers should evaluate and implement changes that will save lives, but changes -- at least those that use these mass shootings as evidence for the need for action -- should be measured against whether they would have had any impact on preventing the violence.
Instead, advocates for more aggressive gun limits immediately trotted out proposals that play to a certain crowd but would have mattered little, if at all, in stopping Paddock. One lawmaker, interviewed on NPR, pressed for universal background checks that close some of the "loopholes." The benefits of such a policy may be worth discussing, but it's disingenuous to suggest it would have done anything to prevent last week's bloodbath. Paddock had no characteristics that would have prompted the authorities to reject his gun purchases based on background checks.
Some will argue any legislation to set the bar higher before anyone can acquire a gun or guns is a step in the right direction. If that's so, those advocates aren't responding to last week's massacre. Rather, they're seizing the opportunity to advance pre-existing notions about what the Second Amendment should and should not allow. It's fine for them to advocate for those things, but it's intellectually dishonest to ramp up their rhetoric in the wake of a mass shooting that their changes would have had no effect on.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for most of last week maintained his contention that it's "completely inappropriate to politicize an event like this." House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who was shot in that July attack on a congressional baseball practice for a fundraiser, said he thinks "it's a shame that the day somebody hears about a shooting, the first thing they can think about is how can I go promote my gun-control agenda, as opposed to saying, how do I go pray and help the families that are suffering."
Although Scalise accurately described some of the reactions, their delay is disingenuous. People across the nation are limited in their capacity to directly respond to violence. Most cannot go give hugs to the wounded and the heartbroken. Politics is where we're supposed to be able to rationally address such national issues. Lawmaking is the process that ensure individuals don't have to take matters into their own hands. And it's rather insulting to hear McConnell and other elected officials criticize anyone for politicizing anything. They've made careers out of doing so.
Gun owners were among the Americans shocked and sickened by the Las Vegas massacre. They are desperately needed in the discussion to help their nation figure out ways to reduce the violence associated with their weapons of choice. As the week closed, it looked like Ryan and others were beginning to embrace a ban on so called "bump fire stocks" that make legal semi-automatic rifles capable of spraying bullets like a machine gun.
That ought to be a no brainer. There's no reason to have any legal measure to convert any gun into a fast-firing weapon that doesn't even require aiming to inflict mass casualties.
And yes, I get it: Laws mostly impact those who accept the responsibility to abide by them, like most concealed carry permit holders. Does anyone think criminals stow away their guns because someplace says "no guns allowed?" But our society surely can find a way to protect the Second Amendment without giving cover to evil-doers' capacity to inflict such harm on our fellow Americans.
Commentary on 10/09/2017
Print Headline: Giving them cover