Here we are again. Two mass shootings over a weekend. Three in a week. And yet we seem paralyzed as ever about what to do about it, beginning with the president himself who, of course, would never acknowledge his own role — or the role of guns — in the madness. Instead Donald Trump has this to say: “Mental illness and hatred pulled the trigger — not the gun.”
And yet we begin anew, because we must, despite the paralysis, despite the NRA, despite those who would blame everything but guns for gun violence and despite those who would deny that Trump’s race-baiting rhetoric plays any role in the rapid rise of dangerous white nationalism.
We’ll start with the notion that anyone who cites video games as a cause for America’s contagion of mass shootings should be voted out of office. We can remember that from Columbine days. One Twitter correspondent said he expected someone to blame Marilyn Manson next.
In brief, there are violent video games throughout the world. There is no shortage of hatred thoughout the world. There is mental illness throughout the world. There is a rise in white nationalism and anti-immigrant feeling in Europe as well as America. Only in America, though, do we face (and not face up to) the constant barrage of mass shootings and gun violence.
And so, we pretend to look for other causes. Anyone who says — as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott did — that the problem is lack of prayer in schools should be voted out of office.
Anyone who blames mental illness and doesn’t tie that to the easy availability of guns to the mentally ill — or to those displaying severe anti-social behavior — should be voted out of office.
Anyone who can look at the 24 seconds it took the Dayton shooter to kill nine people and injure dozens more and doesn’t move to ban such high-powered rifles and limit terrifyingly large magazines should be voted out of office.
Anyone who says more guns make us safer — when the evidence clearly says that’s not true — should be voted out of office.
Anyone who cites white nationalist terrorism and doesn’t recognize Donald Trump’s role — in calling refugees “invaders,” in demonizing “illegal aliens,” in suggesting four congresswomen of color — all American citizens and three born here — go back to where they came from, in calling a majority black American city “rat infested” and questioning how anyone could live there, in normalizing white supremacy with his Charlottesville declaration of very fine people on both sides, in making a joke at a recent rally when a supporter says the solution to illegal immigration is to “shoot ‘em” — should be voted out of office.
Trump did mention “white nationalism” in his speech. Once. Earlier in the day, he tweeted that the press and fake news were to blame. He also mentioned the sewer that is the internet. He didn’t mention his embrace of some of the nation’s leading internet polluters.
I’ve read the polls. Americans overwhelmingly favor some form of government action on gun violence. According to the Gun Violence Archive, the shootings in El Paso and Dayton brought the total of mass shootings (four or more injured) to 251 this year. According to the archive, there have four been more mass shootings since. And yet nothing gets done.
For many of us who care about significantly reducing gun violence, Sandy Hook was a defining moment. Twenty first graders are killed and nothing happens. Nothing. It seemed to shut the door forever on any hope for progress when a country isn’t sufficiently moved by the death of all those six-year-olds. Then came Parkland and its students — the victims of gun trauma — demanding something be done. And, as a result, even in Florida there was small, but not insignificant, movement.
As Michael Luo writes in The New Yorker, it is time for Democrats to go big on guns. Some ideas. Buy-back campaigns for assault-style weapons and banning them from here on. (America has twice as many guns per capita — more than one per person — than any other country. Yemen is second.) Reducing magazine size. Making guns theft-proof, so that the gun works only for the owner. Raising the age of purchase for long guns. Make gun licensing at least as difficult as getting a license to drive. Improve background checks. A federal red-flag law and severe civil penalties for those law enforcement officers who refuse to enforce the law.
But if there’s any hope — and it grows harder with each new act of gun violence to think so — we’ll see it in the presidential campaign. Democrats will be forced to take on gun violence in a more serious way. The NRA is at its weakest point in memory. Someone suggested that the Democratic candidates issue a joint declaration on what must be done. That’s unlikely, but no Democratic candidate without a serious plan to reduce gun violence should even be considered for the job. I’ve been glad to see John Hickenlooper make it a centerpiece of his campaign, even if he once had to be pushed to support the 2013 gun laws that were passed, at great political cost, in Colorado. Was the utter failure of the attempt to recall Rep. Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was killed in the Aurora theatre massacre, a sign of progress?
Those who see — or hope to see — a corner being turned like to cite the sudden, and stunning, change in attitude on LGBTQ issues. It’s not exactly the same thing. There’s no 2nd Amendment explicitly addressing same-sex marriage. But in other ways, it is much the same. The question of gun violence, as tied to gun rights, needs a cultural change as much, or maybe more, than any legal change.
As of now, we live in a culture that seems to insist that El Paso and Dayton and Gilroy are the price that must be paid for living in America. That can’t be how most Americans believe. And yet, if something isn’t done, we’ll be back here again. And again. And again. Teddy bears and flowers. Shock and tears. Nothing changing except the names of the killers and the names of their victims.