Reprinted from the Quad-City Times Sept. 4.
In the days after the horrific shootings in El Paso and Dayton last month, we expressed skepticism that anything real would happen to try to put a stop to the epidemic of mass-murders taking place in this country.
Not much has happened over the past month to change our opinion. But, as Congress ends its August recess, we nonetheless are hopeful that there is a surprise in the offing.
If Mitch McConnell can be trusted (a chancy proposition, we know) then it appears the fate of universal background checks and other legislation lies with President Trump.
“I said several weeks ago that if the president took a position on a bill, so that we knew we would actually be making a law, and not just having serial votes, I’d be happy to put it on the floor,” McConnell said Sept. 3.
Of course, the president has been all over the map on background checks.
In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, Trump seemed to like the idea. “Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks,” the president tweeted, even suggesting it be coupled with an immigration deal.
It didn’t take long for him to cool to the idea, however, as he echoed the NRA just two weeks later, saying there already are “very meaningful background checks.”
This weekend, Trump again downplayed background checks, even as he promised something big would be happening.
For the record, in August alone 53 people died in mass killings by firearms, according to the New York Times. (The newspaper used the Justice Department’s definition of mass killing as three or more people being shot to death in a single episode.)
According to a separate measure by the Mass Shootings Tracker, a web-based group, the number of dead is actually 93 if you count the incidents in August in which four or more people were wounded or killed. The site compiles news reports about shootings around the country.
As we know, August didn’t end well. On Aug. 31 a gunman opened fire in west Texas, going on a rampage from Midland to Odessa, killing seven people and wounding close to two dozen others.
September hasn’t begun well, either.
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According to police, a 14-year-old has confessed to shooting to death five members of his family Monday night in Limestone County, Alabama, which is west of Huntsville.
Of course, none of these figures or incidents include those people who have been killed in firearms incidents that were not defined as “mass shootings.”
Democrats who control the House vowed they would push to take action when Congress returned from its recess to address this crisis. But, with Republicans in control of the Senate and the White House, they have little leverage. As McConnell said, he’s not going to bring anything up that doesn’t have the president’s support. That provides a measure of protection for Republican senators up for re-election, like Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.
There is much that could be done to lessen the amount of gun violence on America’s streets without harming the 2nd Amendment. (Walmart on Tuesday announced it would no longer sell handgun ammunition and is asking customers not to openly carry firearms into its stores unless they’re law enforcement officers.)
We believe universal background checks, which are already in place for some firearms dealers but not others, make abundant sense. Why require a check for weapons purchased from a federally licensed dealer but not in other venues?
This requirement is so common-sense that, even with our divided politics, a vast majority of Americans favor universal background checks, according to opinion polls.
A poll published just last week by Quinnipiac University said 93 percent of registered voters support universal background checks, including 89 percent of Republicans. This is not all that different from several other polls.
Still, we wait.
As we and others have said previously, it looks like the only possibility of getting common sense reforms is for everyday people to translate their horror at the crimes committed in El Paso and Dayton and Odessa and Midland and Limestone County, Ala., to action at the ballot box.
Only then will lawmakers who depend upon you for their jobs do anything at all.
Unfortunately, we suspect, September and the months thereafter, will be a period for doing nothing.
Then, it will be up to you.