Words are not enough

The recent barrage of horrible news defies an easy response. It feels overwhelming. Even worse, so many of our “leaders” have already slid easily into clichés and meaningless expressions of concern. “Thoughts and prayers” for the victims of the Las Vegas massacre, like those offered up on innumerable occasions in the past, seem particularly hollow.

Carnage of innocent victims should not be “the price we pay for freedom” as some Second Amendment extremists have argued. The cold hard reality is that the NRA, members of Congress who are afraid to oppose them and too many on the far right give no evidence that they actually care about the lives that are lost on a regular basis to gun violence.

To the contrary, the price we pay for living in a civilized country should be the choice to make big guns and ammunition clips, etc. available only to those with demonstrated military needs for them.

Politicians, briefly, express a phony piety after each deadly incident, then quickly move on to advocate for legislation that will make it even easier for the next person to engage in deadly rampages. Next up on their agenda: a proposal to make the purchase of gun silencers easier. You certainly won’t want that deer or the concert goer to hear the shots being fired.

It used to be that elected officials saw their job as being problem-solvers.  The goal was not to find a perfect solution, but to improve conditions.  With respect to the prevention of deaths by firearm, the posture of the gun lobby is that either no regulation whatsoever is permissible under the Constitution–a position that even the U.S. Supreme Court does not agree with–or that any proposed step will not provide a perfect solution.

The much-used straw man is that any regulation is but the first step to taking away all guns.  How many times did you hear that warning while Barack Obama was president?  There is no data or evidence that moves this debate a centimeter.  Comparisons to the record of other countries are dismissed out of hand.  Examples of nations with stronger gun laws having fewer deaths by firearms are ignored or denied.

We have engaged in a wide-spread program to counter terrorism.  In the process, we have been willing to give up some of our freedoms in the name of greater safety.  Similarly, we have undertaken massive campaigns, spending millions of dollars, to counter public health threats.  In reality, the number of deaths from terrorists in this country pale in comparison to the human tragedy of gun violence.

Yet some keep proclaiming that “now” is not the right time to talk about gun regulations.   We continue to let our public officials get away with mouthing empty expressions of regret, but taking no remedial actions.

As often as I have written about the scourge of gun violence in this country, I have no expectations that this most recent “most deadly gun rampage in American history” will change anything.  We have too many elected officials who are cowards, who don’t really care about the victims, who have political agendas that focus only on the wishes of their largest donors.

This could be a moment for a courageous leader to stand up and speak truth to cowardice.  While there are some voices calling for action, those with the largest pulpits are totally silent.  We know there’s no chance of a bipartisan approach.  When last seen addressing this issue, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was toting a rifle around at an NRA convention.  House Speaker Paul Ryan seems to have no interest other than slashing the federal budget and is totally lacking any signs of a backbone.

What about President Trump?  At one point in his life, he expressed support for gun regulations, but that was several twists and turns ago.  During the presidential campaign, he promised to be a really good friend to the NRA.

Is there anything in his time as president that would lead to a glimmer of hope about this issue?  How many ways can you say no?  Trump’s overriding political strategy is to play to a conservative base that does not support any gun regulations.  His shaky relationship with fact makes him most likely to deny that guns constitute a public health crisis in this country.  Trump may well claim that current gun regulations are working just fine.

In his initial comments after the Las Vegas shooting, he described it as an act of “pure evil.”  Hard to argue with that assessment, but where do you go from there?  It’s far too easy then to assert that behavior of the shooter was so unpredictable and random that nothing could have been done to prevent it.  Of course, something might have been done to prevent an evil person from having 23 rifles, thousands of rounds of ammunition and high-powered sights readily available.

If Trump is criticized for his response to Las Vegas, and there’s no certainty that he will be, he is likely, as he has done with the criticism of his administration’s feeble response to the plight of hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, to lash out and blame the victims.

At a moment when we could really use courageous, moral leadership in this country, the odds seemed stacked against it.  Spare us the words of condolence that we have heard so often in the past.  What is desperately needed is action to prevent future carnage in the streets of yet another American city.