Reprinted from the Quad-City Times Aug. 7.
Is this the time when we refuse to look away?
Is this when we refuse to let the rush of everyday life, or the calculation of politicians, dull the horror we felt this weekend — that we still feel — at the news of the mass murders in El Paso and Dayton?
We hope it is not. We hope the revulsion that we feel will last, if only to force a solution.
But experience tells us otherwise.
Often, the way to deal with pain and hopelessness is by directing our attention elsewhere — and with the continuing onslaught of mass shootings in this nation and the failure of our political leaders to do anything substantive about it, it is a natural reaction.
Natural, but deadly.
We are not encouraged by what we’ve seen so far in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey told reporters Monday that he’d spoken with President Trump about his bill to expand background checks on gun purchases. The bill would apply to all commercial transactions, not just federally licensed dealers.
Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, said the president showed a willingness to engage on the issue, but Trump didn’t mention significant gun restrictions in his own remarks on the massacre Monday, even after he raised the prospect of a deal in an early morning tweet.
Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and other Republicans are focusing on advancing “red flag” proposals, which would help states try to keep guns out of the hands of people who are deemed to be imminent threats. Such laws involve petitioning the courts to issue protective orders.
Fewer than 20 states have such “red flag” laws, and we’re not sure how much they would expand beyond that. Politico has reported that the NRA, while supporting the idea in concept, has opposed each of the laws that have been approved.
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Some studies say these laws have led to a reduction in suicides, so they could be very helpful. However, this is a modest step, the kind that we have seen before.
Recall after the 2017 massacre in Las Vegas, where 58 people were killed by a gunman firing from a high-rise hotel, the Trump administration came out in favor of banning bump stocks, the devices that allow for rapid fire.
That ban, even with the NRA backing it, took months to put in place. (It only took effect in March.) Yet, even with that ban, the Dayton gunman still was able to fire 41 shots in 30 seconds during his rampage. Clearly, we have not done enough.
We hope these “red flag” proposals don’t serve as a politically expedient substitute for broader measures. We hope that Toomey’s background check legislation gains some momentum.
We believe it is basic common sense to check the background of a person who purchases a gun, whether that transaction is with a licensed dealer or on the internet.
Poll after poll shows the vast majority of Americans agree.
The House, which is controlled by Democrats, passed a background check bill earlier this year but it has languished in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The bipartisan legislation offered by Toomey and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, failed to clear the Senate in both 2013 and 2015. (Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, have voted to oppose the legislation.)
We would hope the experiences of the last few years would change their minds. We are not confident, though.
Legislation expanding background checks is just one step to limit the easy availability of guns and to raise the odds they don’t fall into the wrong hands.
There is more that could be done, but expanding these checks would be a solid congressional achievement. It would show that, indeed, this time is different.