American Tragedy: The Political Response to Mass Shootings
On Sunday, October 1, at 10:08 p.m. in Las Vegas, the gates of hell opened. A madman unleashed a torrent of automatic firepower from his sniper’s nest 32 stories above an unsuspecting crowd of 22,000 country music fans enjoying a night of music on the Las Vegas Strip. Many people, myself included, didn’t learn of the event until Monday morning, kicking off an all too familiar routine. Were any loved ones at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival? The lucky ones are able to answer no. Next, we turn to social media for information and to see if anyone we know was affected. Again, the lucky ones can answer no. But still, the magnitude of a tragedy like this weighs on us all—it’s impossible not to think of the innocent lives taken that night.
This routine is painfully familiar, and the consistent lack of congressional leadership leaves us to believe there is no end in sight for this American-brand of carnage.
By now you have seen the news reports and read some of the hundreds of articles written about the Las Vegas attack and can probably recite gun statistics off hand. For instance, even though Americans make up just 4.4 percent of the world’s population, we own 42 percent of the world’s guns. We also have 3.8 times more firearm homicides than the next leading country (in case you were wondering, it’s Switzerland). The Vox article, “Gun Violence in America, explained in 17 maps and charts” does the math for us. While the number of guns in the United States is an issue worth debating, I want to focus on our political leaders’ rote response to gun violence.
Elected officials in the Republican Party have their responses down to a science. They go through a predictable three-step process. Step one, denounce the violence and offer thoughts and prayers to the victims and survivors. Prayers are positive, but we need more than a plea for divine intervention to solve the problem that is killing close to 11,000 Americans a year. According to a poll done by the PEW Research Center, this is not as divisive of an issue as you may have been led to believe.
Getting our government to pass common sense guns laws that a majority of the country wants shouldn’t be the hard part. Their job is to represent the people. Unfortunately, they care more about the money and power the NRA brings, than they do about you.
Step two is to delay. They will state that this is not the time for a gun control debate—a tragedy like this shouldn’t be exploited for political gains. Except that there are a couple of problems with that line of logic. If the assailant was named Muhammad, the sun would not set before the Republican leadership would be talking travel ban and attacking the Muslim community. Also, if we wait until there isn’t a mass shooting in this country to have the debate, we will never talk about gun control. As Christopher Ingraham, from the Washington Post, pointed out, America has a mass shooting almost every day of the year. If we want to prevent mass shootings, we have to be able to have a rational conversation about gun control when the wounds are still fresh.
The final step of the GOP response is to hold press conferences to shift the focus to mental health. Mental health absolutely plays a role in mass shootings, and we should 100 percent be looking to help those struggling with mental health issues. However, while Republican leaders like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell talk about allocating resources for mental health treatment, their actions tell a very different story.
The biggest way we combat mental health issues in this country is through Medicaid, which covers the cost of mental health services for the homeless and for low-income people. For a more in-depth look, I recommend The Atlantic story on Medicaid assistance. Earlier this year, Paul Ryan’s House voted to cut Medicaid in his version of a health care bill, and McConnell’s Senate was one vote away from doing the same. Even though the health care bill is dead, they aren’t done trying to cut Medicaid because they need to take from the poor and give to the rich if they want to secure a tax cut. So once again, Medicaid funding is on the chopping block.
Republicans have also refused to make it harder for those struggling with mental illness to purchase a firearm. In February 2017, they voted to overturn a regulation mandating the Social Security Office to disclose information to the FBI about citizens receiving mental health benefits to help restrict their access to firearms. This didn’t make the NRA happy, so it had to be stopped. When it comes down to it, Republicans like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell do not actually want to solve the issues they propose to champion, like mental health.
We have a real problem in this country—not only with guns but also with our response to tragedies involving guns. We have congressional leaders that talk a good game but take no meaningful measures to reduce gun violence because they are too afraid to stand up to the NRA and pass reasonable legislation that both republicans and democrats want. If you don’t believe me, look no further than this Politico story on just how much money the NRA pours into GOP campaigns.
I leave you with this. On the matter of guns, I am pro-guns with safety and controls measures just like I am pro-cars while supporting licensing, registration, mandatory speed limits, seatbelts, car seat laws, vision restriction, drunk and reckless driving laws because they save lives. The goal is to moderate, not eliminate gun violence.