To change gun laws, change Congress

Every country has people with mental illness and serious emotional problems, a smaller percentage with violent tendencies. But, aside from lawless nations confronting anarchy, the United States stands alone in providing such easy access to guns designed to kill many people fast.

So, yes, as President Trump noted after the latest slaughter of innocents at a Florida high school, the nation should do more to help people struggling with mental illness. But what it must certainly do, and what the president and his Republican Party refuse to do, is control access to these WMDs — weapons of mass death.

It is also worth noting that even on the issue of mental health, Trump’s call for action drips with insincerity. His just-released budget proposal seeks massive cuts to Medicaid that would dramatically reduce access to the nation's mental health care system for millions of low-income individuals. Likewise the administration continues to undermine the Affordable Care Act without proposing an alternative program.

But at least Trump gives lip service to improving mental health service. He won’t go anywhere near the topic of gun-control.

What has become clear is that things will only change if voters deliver a message at the ballot box. Only if Republicans are stung with big losses in the November 2018 election, and the loss of one or both chambers of Congress, might the GOP reconsider its stand against gun-control reform.

As things stands now, Republican lawmakers in Washington are more concerned about losing the big dollars the extremist National Rifle Association pours into their campaigns, or facing primary challenges by candidates calling them soft on the Second Amendment, than they are about controlling the guns that are killing our kids.

In that regard, we are preaching to the choir. The two senators and five congressmen representing Connecticut are all in favor of restoring the ban on semiautomatic rifles that went into place during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, only to later expire. They all back requiring universal background checks, so that dangerous individuals cannot circumvent FBI review. And they promote the obvious step of banning anyone on the federal terror watch list from obtaining a firearm.

In the wake of Connecticut’s most serious mass shooting — the 2012 murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 children, six educators, the killer’s mother and the murderer, by way of suicide, dead — this state adopted reasonable gun restrictions. The U.S. Congress can too, but only if voters in other states hold lawmakers to account.

Gun-control laws passed in Connecticut and other states help, but this is a national crisis calling for a national solution. Lower courts have found the restrictions and more stringent background checks passed in Connecticut, and similar laws passed in other states, to be constitutional. And by declining to review these decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court has signaled that reasonable gun-control laws, preventing or limiting access to extreme weapons, do not violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Those in opposition to such restrictions will argue that criminals will still kill people with guns and there will still be mass shootings. They’re right. The nation is flooded with guns. They aren’t going away. But, as a nation, we have to start somewhere. If five mass shootings are prevented because deranged individuals could not access weapons of mass death, is it not worth approving gun control? Preventing three? One?

After the destruction of lives in Florida, the nation lamented, “Not again!” This is a representative democracy. If they so choose, the people, by their votes, can elect leaders who will take steps to reduce the chances of it happening again.

But if nothing changes, nothing changes. And our grim and violent new normal will continue.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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