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1 Political Party Has Ideas About How To Stop Mass Shootings. Will Democrats Meet The Moment?

Rene Aguilar and Jackie Flores pray at a makeshift memorial for the victims of Saturday's mass shooting at a shopping complex in El Paso, Texas, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019. (Andres Leighton/AP)
Rene Aguilar and Jackie Flores pray at a makeshift memorial for the victims of Saturday's mass shooting at a shopping complex in El Paso, Texas, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019. (Andres Leighton/AP)

On Saturday a 21-year-old Texas man allegedly walked into a busy Walmart in El Paso and sprayed bullets from an assault-style weapon, killing at least 22 and injuring some two dozen more.

Thirteen hours later, a gunman in body armor opened fire at a nightclub district in Dayton, Ohio, killing nine and wounding at least 26.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence immediately offered prayers for the dead and injured. Neither offered any ideas to help stem such mass shootings.

Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called the El Paso shooting “a heinous and senseless act of violence.” He said similar things in 2018, when a gunman killed 10 at a Texas high school; and in 2017, when another gunman killed 26 worshipers at a Texas church; and in 2016, when a sniper killed five policemen in Dallas. Just this summer, Abbott vetoed a bill that would have banned guns in secure airport areas and signed into law 10 pro-Second Amendment bills.

Trump’s remarks to the nation on Monday morning seemed lifted from a National Rifle Association talking points memo. “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun,” Trump said before eliciting prayers for the victims in “Toledo.” This is directly out of the NRA playbook: Talk mental health; ignore bodies and bullet holes. (The president also bizarrely suggested the possibility of linking gun control legislation with immigration reform, even though both of the alleged shooters are white American males.)

Yet numerous headlines noted Trump’s condemnation of white supremacy. Setting such a low bar for presidential behavior is just one of the problems the media must address about itself.

“Members of the press, what the f---,” said presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who represented El Paso as a congressman. “It’s these questions that you know the answers to. Connect the dots about what he’s been doing in this country.”

The slaughters in El Paso and Dayton come at a time when the NRA is in disarray and national support for gun control is near an all-time high.

With Trump’s lock on the Republican Party secure, any movement on firearm regulation will likely have to come from Democrats. Trump has already begun to define the Democratic nominee, whomever that might be, as a threat to the Second Amendment. “Look, they are in the process of trying to take your arms away,” Trump told a conference of teenagers last month. “They will do damage to the Second Amendment the likes of which nobody even thought of.”

So what can Democrats do?

There are plenty of ideas. Mandatory background checks, assault weapon bans, “Red Flag” measures (which Trump has suggested he may support), raising the firearm purchasing age, and a recent proposal by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker for all gun purchasers to be licensed. Currently, only 14 states require licenses of some kind; in the other 36, gun buyers only have to prove they’re 18 or older.

Last February, the Democratic House passed H.R. 8, "Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019," which would "establish new background check requirements for firearm transfers between private parties." Some Democrats are now calling on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring the House back from summer recess to vote on it again. This move would be good policy and smart politics. Though the bill will almost certainly be ignored by the Republican-led Senate, such inaction might have ramifications for the GOP heading into an election year.

[O]ne thing Democrats or anyone else who supports rational gun measures can adopt is rhetoric that might reframe “gun control” ...

The problem with a top-down approach to firearm regulations is the 1997 Supreme Court decision in Printz v. United States, in which a sharply divided court ruled that the federal government could not force states to perform the background checks called for in the Brady Act of 1993.

Given that decision and the current Supreme Court makeup, structural challenges will bedevil any universal regulatory attempts. But one thing Democrats or anyone else who supports rational gun measures can adopt is rhetoric that might reframe “gun control” in the minds of those who fear it most.

First, stop calling it gun control. That term fuels the paranoia of those who embrace the Trump phantasm of federal squads taking “your arms away.” Instead, call it gun purchase control. That puts the emphasis where it belongs — at the point of purchase, not in the home of a gun owner.

Second, separate the National Rifle Association from the nation and rifles. The greatest concern for gun owners and hunters should be the extremist, corrupt cabal that cares little about land preservation and wild game and everything about self-serving access to Washington insiders, all the while gorging itself on the dues of hardworking NRA members.

Mourners gather at a vigil following a nearby mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. (John Minchillo/AP)
Mourners gather at a vigil following a nearby mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. (John Minchillo/AP)

Third, appeal to the enduring American spirit of innovation and problem-solving by building grassroots support for measures like Smart Gun technology, which allows a gun to be fired only by a person whose fingerprints it recognizes. Yes, a purchaser intent on carnage could fire the gun (that’s where background checks and permitting comes in), but this technology would help prevent accidental deaths and would help block stolen firearms being used in crimes.

Fourth, remind voters at every opportunity of Donald Trump’s abject failure to deliver on his inaugural promise that “this American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

The 2020 presidential campaign will shine a spotlight on Republican and Democratic approaches to the carnage at the El Paso Walmart, the Dayton club district, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, the Pittsburgh synagogue, the Las Vegas country music festival and so many other bloody death fields.

Democrats must meet the moment.

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Jim Borghesani Cognoscenti contributor
Jim Borghesani is president of Primepoint Strategic Media. He began his career as a reporter at the Patriot Ledger and the Boston Business Journal.

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