That significant gun control legislation has only a slim chance of passage in the wake of recent mass shootings reveals the depths to which the Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate and White House have sunk in their willingness to flout public opinion.
According to polls taken well before the recent carnage in El Paso and Dayton took 31 lives and wounded more than 50, two-thirds of Americans backed stricter gun laws. Similar margins backed Congress and President Bill Clinton when it passed and he signed the 1993 Brady bill, which required stricter background checks for purchasing handguns, and the 1994 assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004.
When Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine spoke to a crowd of mourners in Dayton, the people chanted, “Do something! Do something!”
Yet a few days after the shootings, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s hometown newspaper, the Louisville Courier-Journal, reported he was “unlikely to accept gun control legislation.” Instead, McConnell instructed Republican Senate committee leaders to talk with Democrats about “potential solutions to help protect our communities without infringing on Americans’ constitutional rights.”
It’s not just the $1.2 million in campaign contributions the National Rifle Association has given McConnell over his 34-year political career. He’s a true believer. He told an NRA convention in 2014 that “the liberal establishment in Washington doesn’t understand Kentucky values … As long as Washington attacks our heritage, I’ll fight back.”
Yet it wasn’t Daniel Boone who drove from the Dallas suburbs to El Paso, a peaceful border town where cross-border commerce is common. It was a self-appointed white nationalist terrorist taking up arms against the Hispanic “invasion,” a word used all too frequently by President Donald Trump.
The president, rather than calling attention to the rising share of domestic terror incidents being perpetrated by white nationalists, placed the blame for the carnage on mental illness and video games. “We must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence,” the president said. “Mental illness and hate pulls the trigger, not the gun.”
As with so many things the president utters, the facts are completely opposite. Research shows less than 5% of gunshot deaths are associated with mental illness and there’s no connection between obsessive video-gaming and violence. “Rates of mental illness are roughly the same around the world,” noted Rosie Phillips Davis, president of the American Psychological Association. “Yet other countries are not experiencing these traumatic events as often as we face them.”
The president also refused to take responsibility for how his Twitter feed may be emboldening white nationalist terrorists. In recent months, he has repeatedly disparaged Hispanic immigrants, minority legislators, and “disgusting, rat and rodent infested” inner cities. One researcher who focuses on hate speech noted “having the most powerful person on Earth echo their hateful views may give extremists a sense of impunity.”
The gun violence epidemic in the U.S. is much larger than these latest incidents. Nearly 40,000 people die every year from gunshot wounds, two-thirds by their own hand. More than half of the 13,000 murder victims (and the perpetrators) are African-Americans living in impoverished urban neighborhoods that have been flooded with guns easily purchased on their periphery or in neighboring states.
The public gets it. To begin reversing the epidemic of gun violence, we need to totally ban civilian ownership of assault weapons since their only use is mass murder; expand background checks for all gun purchases; and screen gun purchasers for suicidal tendencies and the propensity to inflict harm on others.
Dr. Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, spoke for the entire healthcare industry when she called for “common-sense steps … to prevent avoidable deaths and injuries caused by gun violence. We must also address the pathology of hatred that has too often fueled these mass murders and casualties.”