It is still happening and it is getting worse.
I am speaking about mass shooting incidents. The Gun Violence Archive defines mass shootings as having “a minimum of four victims shot, either injured or killed, not including any shooter who may also have been killed or injured in the incident.” As of April 24, there have been 159 mass shootings since the beginning of the year; that’s 159 calls for “thoughts and prayers” from Republicans. Thoughts and prayers don’t stop mass shootings, only stricter gun control can. How did we get here?
Start with the one-sentence Second Amendment, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary for the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” which has undergone some fatal interpretations. The arguments we hear today seem to overlook the “well regulated Militia” part and focus only on “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” thanks to the National Rifle Association. But the NRA wasn’t always like that.
The NRA was established in 1871 in part to improve the marksmanship skills of men who might be involved in future wars and in part to promote the British sport of elite shooting and rifle clubs. The NRA actually supported the Gun Control Act of 1968. One of the NRA’s main goals was to teach about gun safety. But things changed in the 1970s when some of the membership forced the organization to focus less on the sport and more on opposing “gun control.” In 1975, the NRA started the lobbying group, the Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA). Two years later Harlon Carter, a lobbyist who did not believe in compromising on gun legislation, was elected NRA’s executive vice president. He installed Neal Knox, a hard-liner, to head the NRA-ILA. According to an analysis by NPR, “The new marching orders were to oppose all forms of gun control across the board and lobby aggressively for gun owners’ rights in Congress and the legislatures.” It has been that way ever since.
In the 1980s the NRA affiliated itself with Reagan’s Republican Party. Interestingly, 1981 also saw an assassination attempt on President Reagan, which badly wounded him and his press secretary, James Brady. One might think that this attempt on Reagan’s life would call for more gun control. But the Republican Congress gave in to the NRA and passed the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act making it easier to buy, sell, and transport guns across state lines. Then in 1987, the Brady Bill was introduced in Congress. It would require background checks before gun purchases. The NRA strongly opposed it and the bill did not pass until 1993, during President Bill Clinton’s administration.
By the 1990s, radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones encouraged their listeners to take up arms against the government to stop socialism and the imposition of martial law. A Supreme Court ruling in 1997 sealed the partnership between the NRA and the Republican Party by declaring it unconstitutional for the federal government to require states to perform background checks. The Republican members of Congress and the NRA were now speaking with one voice.
Gun violence has reached epidemic proportions. The Biden administration recognizes the importance of stricter gun control laws and considers gun violence a public health epidemic. A statement released by the White House on April 7 stated, “The President is committed to taking action to reduce all forms of gun violence – community violence, mass shootings, domestic violence, and suicide by firearm.”
Are we on our way to finally realizing that “thoughts and prayers” won’t solve our gun violence problem? After every mass shooting, the Republicans seem to say “now is not the time to talk about gun control.” They have given the same response after nearly every mass shooting in the U.S. since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. With more than 159 mass shootings so far this year, more than one every day, when do Republicans think it will be the time to talk about gun violence? It has been almost nine years since the Sandy Hook tragedy, which remains the deadliest elementary school shooting in modern U.S. history. It has been almost four years since the mass shooting in Las Vegas, in which 60 people were killed in what is the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. If now is not the time to talk about gun control, when is? Republicans, very simply, do not want to face the issue.
The Biden administration wants to talk about it now. According to a White House fact sheet,”President Joe Biden wants to make changes including closing ‘boyfriend’ and stalking loopholes that currently allow people found by the courts to be abusers to possess firearms, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, repealing gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability, and investing in evidence-based community violence interventions.” He is also calling for a national “red-flag” law. Red-flag laws allow family members or law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily remove guns from a person who is seen to be a risk to themselves or others. A Quinnipiac Poll released on April 15 found that 74% of Americans support red-flag laws including 65% of Republicans. It also found that 89% support background checks including 84% of Republicans. But again, the Republicans don’t listen to their constituents — instead they blocked a federal red-flag law that was introduced in the Senate in February 2019 and they are expected to try and block a national law again.
And we know that red-flag laws work! Connecticut introduced the first red-flag law 22 years ago following a shooting at the state lottery office. A few states followed and that number ticked up after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Now 19 states and Washington, D.C. have enacted some type of red-flag law. One study showed that these states experienced a significant decrease in gun-related suicides between 2012–2016. Another study in California concluded that no mass shootings, other homicides, or suicides were committed by 21 people who had their guns confiscated because of red-flag laws. The California red-flag law has been implemented in efforts to prevent mass shootings by individuals who made explicit threats and owned firearms.
After a series of mass shootings in 2019, then-President Trump stated what many people erroneously believe. “I don’t want people to forget that this is a mental health problem.” This attempt at scapegoating the mentally ill is meant to deflect what mental health experts have stated contribute to mass shootings. As American Psychological Association President Dr. Rosie Phillips Davis stated in response to those mass shootings, “[W]e are facing a public health crisis of gun violence fueled by racism, bigotry, and hatred… Routinely blaming mass shootings on mental illness is unfounded and stigmatizing… One critical factor is access to, and the lethality of, the weapons that are being used in these crimes. Adding racism, intolerance and bigotry to the mix is a recipe for disaster”
These are the systemic problems we should be addressing. Until and unless we as a nation put our resources into addressing these issues, we are facing an increase in the frequency and intensity of mass shootings. The Democrats are ready; the Republicans, as usual, are not. The time for “thoughts and prayers” is over. Now is the time for action and Republicans in Congress need to face the facts.
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