Commentary: The Right Punts on Solutions to Gun Violence?

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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



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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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16 thoughts on “Commentary: The Right Punts on Solutions to Gun Violence?”

  1. Don Shor

    From a Facebook post: “If the Mandalay Bay hotel had caught fire and 58 people died and 500+ people were injured trying to escape, America would be having a discussion about how to make hotels safer.

    “If 58 people at the concert had died and 500+ people went to the hospital due to food poisoning, America would be having a conversation about how to make food safer.
    “If a gas tanker accident on I-15, the freeway that runs through Las Vegas, had killed 58 people and injured 500+, there would be demands to make our roads safer.
    “It is not ‘political’ to demand that lawmakers take steps to reduce deaths from gun violence any more than it is ‘political’ to demand better fire codes, stricter food inspections, and safer roads.”

    The mental illness argument is not just a cop-out, it is harmful to the mentally ill and those who work with them. There are proposals that get broad public support, and others that are more polarized.

    http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/06/23/bipartisan-support-for-some-gun-proposals-stark-partisan-divisions-on-many-others/

    But nothing will get done because all legislation of any kind will be blocked for obvious reasons.

    https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/summary.php?id=D000000082&cycle=2016

    Also, any GOP candidate who supports any kind of gun control will likely be primaried from the right by candidates groomed by Steve Bannon.

    The reality is that the trend toward looser gun laws is more, not less, likely to continue.
    https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/10/more-killings-more-guns/541905/

    1. H Jackson

      Also from FB: “Who cares if Kim Jong-un gets a nuke? Nukes don’t kill people, PEOPLE kill people.  … see how f*****g stupid that sounds?”

      1. Keith O

        Chicago has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation.  How do you feel the Democrats have done there?

        That said, I don’t feel anyone ever needs to own a high-powered automatic gun.  I’m also okay with limiting clips to maybe 8 bullets.  I also agree that nobody needs to own that many guns  especially all purchased in the last year.

        1. Don Shor

          It just seems like it should raise a red flag somehow, somewhere when that many weapons are purchased in a short time period. I know it’s possible to buy weapons in various states, go to different gun stores and gun shows, etc. It seems it would be possible to track the registration and ownership to look for patterns like this. I mean, if you go out and buy several hundred pounds of ammonium nitrate, even for your farm, you may get contacted by the Dept. of Homeland Security. You can go buy little boxes of it at a garden center, but significant purchases are monitored. You have to show ID to buy certain allergy meds and they track that. This isn’t rocket science. A database wouldn’t be hard to set up. But I believe it would be difficult to even pass legislation allowing that.

  2. John Hobbs

    “The left has no solutions either?”

    Well, we have suggested the same registration and licensing requirements we have for pet dogs and motor vehicles, but that is too intrusive for [edited] right wingers. Certainly one might question the need to buy so many weapons and thousands of rounds of ammo, but, the guys at Guns and Guitars probably aren’t too inquisitive.

    [moderator] Please read and adhere to the Vanguard comment policy.

  3. Tia Will

    Part of the problem is in framing this as the need to find a “solution”. Gun safety is an extremely complex issue. There are equipment issues, and how to make weapons safer both for the user and adjacent individuals. There are individual user issues such as gun knowledge, skills, responsibility, life experiences ( evidence that early exposure to domestic violence may be a predisposing factor), group identification, current life challenges  all of which may play some roll. There are societal issues such as where one grows up, rurally, suburb, inner city, ones ethnic and religious background, level of education.

    What we do know is that this mass shootings are only part of the problem of the totality of gun related injuries and deaths in this country and yet we continue to treat these in isolation.

    One thing that we desperately need is more research into all of the above areas to determine what factors play the largest roles and how we could best intervene with preventative and harm reduction measures. However our federal government has chosen to hobble these efforts at the bequest of the NRA  by blocking research funding. My very first request would be that this be repealed and full funding for gun injury risk reduction be restored just as we would for any other national epidemic.

    I recommend the following as a good introductory article on some measures that have been recommended.

    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/01/10/upshot/How-to-Prevent-Gun-Deaths-The-Views-of-Experts-and-the-Public.html?emc=edit_ty_20171003&nl=opinion-today&nlid=57920617&te=1&_r=0

  4. David Greenwald

    This is pretty interesting:

    From 538: “Opposition to gun control laws is now a default position of the Republican Party, and guns as an issue has become one of the most polarized topics in modern American politics. More than that, it’s become a defining issue — which party people choose to identify with is inextricably intertwined with their relationship with guns and gun policy.”

    Which would be okay if there were an alternative approach suggested, but there is not

  5. Richard McCann

    Unfortunately, it may take a mass attack by multiple shooters on a large sporting event that kills thousands to truly motivate reform. Too many people are enamored by their playthings or a false sense of security. (Studies show that there is no net gain in safety from gun ownership.) We have many viable solutions that have been implemented in other similarly situated societies. It’s all about the commercial interests of a certain industry wrapped up in the emotional baggage of specific populations. (Which explains a lot of other irrational policy choices as well.)

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