In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, the worst mass shooting in US history, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “I think that we can have those policy conversations, but today is not that day.”
To me and probably countless others, I think there is no better time than the present to have policy discussions on gun violence and how to combat it. It comes at a time when the GOP has efforts to expand gun rights.
On Tuesday, Republican legislative leaders refused to look into expanded background checks for gun purchases, but at the same time shelved a House bill that would have allowed greater access to gun silencers.
The question is what do we do to stop these kinds of attacks if we can’t entertain even modest gun control proposals like expanded background checks for gun purchases? After all, the normal hard deterrent for murder – severe punishment and the death penalty – would obviously have no impact in cases where the shooter takes their own life, as was the case here.
I posted this question Tuesday on Facebook to see what kinds of bites I got.
One answer I got: “At some point, we might have to accept that there isn’t a solution. There are evil people in the world and they will perpetuate evil regardless of barriers. We have laws meant to prevent someone from having the arsenal this coward had and, yet, he obtained them. He was obviously mentally ill but no one recognized that illness.”
That is a similar answer that the Huffington Post got when they asked GOP Senators what Congress can do to prevent mass shootings.
“I don’t think this is a problem a law is going to fix by itself,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said.
“Mental health reform is the critical ingredient to making sure that we can try and prevent some of these things that have happened in the past,” House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin told reporters Tuesday.
Senator Ted Cruz said, “Sadly, violence will always be part of our lives.”
“People are going to have to take steps in their own lives to take precautions to protect themselves,” said Senator John Thune of South Dakota.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed the White House in saying, “I think it’s particularly inappropriate to politicize an event like this, it just happened in the last day-and-a-half. It’s
entirely premature to be discussing legislative solutions, if any.”
Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama said, “I don’t know if legislation can [prevent] mass shootings.” He added, “So, we’re dealing with the human condition, sometimes it doesn’t manifest itself very well.”
The Huffington Post reported, “No GOP senators who spoke with HuffPost expressed support for broader gun control measures, such as limiting magazine capacity or banning automatic weapons.”
It seems that the basic answer then is that the answer to gun violence for those on the right who are hard gun rights supporters – and by that I mean those who oppose even things like background checks or limitations on magazine capacity or banning automatic weapons – is to concede that there are bad people in the world and there is not much we can do.
The irony here is that I’m not a hardline gun control advocate. I do not believe that weapons bans are really feasible. I believe that gun culture is too ingrained. And I actually agree with those on the right who argue that criminals will end up finding a way to get guns.
But I really don’t understand the reluctance to do things like make it tougher for the mentally ill to get a gun. Earlier this year, the Trump administration rescinded an Obama administration regulation put into place following the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook in Connecticut.
I do not understand the reluctance for tougher and more rigorous background checks.
I’m not sure if limiting magazine capacity is effective, but why oppose it?
Also those who argue that criminals will find a way to get ahold of guns forget a few factors here. First, “criminal” is a rather nebulous term. Some people who commit crimes do so in premeditated and deliberate ways, but many commit crimes of opportunity, and easy and ready access to weapons facilitates that.
The position also ignores the large number of people who get harmed by accidental discharge of weapons used in a careless manner – accidental discharge of legal weapons.
And it also ignores that the chief way criminals get weapons is stealing them from law-abiding citizens.
There has also been a discussion on the right about mental illness – which seems like a reasonable discussion to have.
But we are operating in the dark here. President Trump immediately commented that the individual was likely “a sick, demented man with a lot of problems.” But as Newsweek points out, “The implication of comments like this, that people with mental disorders are responsible for mass shootings, has become a ‘meme’ in the wake of such events, Columbia University psychiatrist Paul Appelbaum tells Newsweek.”
But he said “to jump to the assumption” that a shooter “is ‘sick’ in some way is simply to continue the stigmatization of people with mental disorders who commit only a small portion of acts of violence in this country,” he says.
Moreover, we don’t know.
Professor Appelbaum co-authored a review that “found that extremely few violent acts are attributable to serious mental illness—just 3 to 5 percent.”
Instead, the professor sees this as “more about an attempt by the National Rifle Association to deflect attention.”
Okay, but then again, let’s say he is mentally ill – don’t we want to make it more difficult for him to get an arsenal of weapons?
In the end, I see the punt formation, that the right is putting on here, disconcerting. I certainly don’t see gun control as the only answer – particularly given the large amount of weapons that will always exist in American society. But throwing up our hands and saying there is nothing we can do doesn’t seem like a good answer either.
At the very least, we need to have the discussion and we need to have it now.
—David M. Greenwald reporting