In the wake of the latest horrific tragedy of the mass shooting variety, our nation’s leaders seemed to engage in the same song and dance they do every time something like this happens.
Take Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for example. After the unspeakable shooting at Sandy Hook, where 20 children between the ages of six and seven were murdered, the Majority Leader said the following: “I invite everyone to lift their hearts in prayer for the victims and their families and to unite around the hope that there will soon come a day when parents no longer fear this kind of violence in our nation again.” At the same time, Sen. McConnell blocked all bills on gun reform from making it to the floor.
Similarly, after the Pulse nightclub massacre, Sen. McConnell held a moment of silence, and then proceeded to silence all debate on gun reform. Finally, after last month’s shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 high school students were murdered in one of the deadliest school shootings in the world, you can probably guess the extent of Sen. McConnell’s action. If you had guessed thoughts, prayers and a moment of silence, then you were unfortunately dead on.
One of the reasons these politicians, mostly representing the Republican Party, have gotten away with this kind of reaction is because of a dedicated “smoke and mirror” campaign. These so-called leaders almost seem to follow a shared playbook when a mass shooting occurs. In the 24 hours after the event, they offer their thoughts and prayers, hold moments of silence and seem to genuinely grieve for the families. After that period of time passes, they condemn anyone who spoke out in favor of more gun control for politicizing the tragedy, effectively politicizing the event themselves.
For example, almost exactly 24 hours after the atrocity at Stoneman Douglas High School, Ted Cruz levied the following charge at Democrats on national television: “The reaction of Democrats to any tragedy is to try to politicize it.” Then, as sadness turns to anger throughout the country, these politicians start a mass information campaign, pointing their fingers at any and all actors who are not part of the gun industry, including themselves. Republican leaders blamed the police, the FBI, the school’s administration and even the students in Parkland, Fla. To a certain extent, they weren’t wrong. The FBI had received tips about the shooter even though it is legally murky what they could have done. Furthermore, police did not swiftly enter the building, which could have potentially limited the number of casualties. However, blaming teachers and students for not reporting the shooter was ludicrous. It’s a tactic I know well as a former high school debater — throw out as many arguments as possible and hope that one sticks. Except, in this case, the goal isn’t to win tournaments as much as save people’s lives.
Curiously, one argument these politicians never seemed to land on is more effective gun control. They claim if everything else went perfectly, a crazy person would never be able to have a gun and use it at a school. They claim it’s not a problem with the laws themselves, but the execution of the laws that exist. They claim we’ve done everything we can. But, we empirically have not. Just a cursory glance at gun laws in our country and across the world shows gun reform can and has saved lives. To make it easier for them, because I understand a certain leader of ours prefers bullet points, I will list just a few of these policies with a brief description of each:
1. Assault rifle ban: The United States banned assault rifles between 1994 and 2004. There was a marked decrease in gun massacre incidents as a result and an increase after it was allowed to lapse. In Australia, an assault rifle ban and gun buyback program has saved an estimated 200 lives per year.
2. Background checks: Boston University found that universal background checks and ammunition background checks significantly decreased gun mortality by comparing states that have those laws to states that don’t.
3. Gun violence restraining order: In recent mass shootings, there have often been red flags associated with the shooter. For example, various people close to the Stoneman Douglas High School shooter were aware that he posed a threat but had no legal resource. In cases such as these, individuals should be able to petition the court to confiscate a weapon from someone the court deems as a danger to oneself or others.
4. Bump stock ban: Bump stocks are gun modifications that allow semi-automatic weapons to operate similarly to fully automatic weapons. Bump stocks often come with 60 to 100-round magazines. A ban on these devices could limit the carnage a gun can bring.
5. Gun licenses: Federal law does not mandate that people acquire a gun license before purchasing a gun, and there is no process of gun registration. One study found that if such a law were to be enacted, projected mortality could be reduced by 84 percent.
6. Thoughts/prayers: To date, no scientific research has shown this particular method to be effective in preventing the death of innocent individuals.
I am not sure any of these reforms will work. While there seems to be real evidence that they can save lives, no one can be sure what effect they will have on the gun violence that plagues our country. But that’s exactly my argument; conservative leaders cannot claim to have tried everything without giving firearm reform a chance. We owe it to the people of Parkland, Fla., Orlando, Las Vegas, Newtown, Conn. and too many others to halt the shedding of innocent blood. Moreover, we owe it to the next town that has to face the inestimable pain of burying loved ones if we don’t do everything in our power to never have to utter the words “thoughts and prayers” under these circumstances again.
Rishabh Kewalramani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org