Sunday, June 24, 2018
News Roundup

Ruth: Stand up to the gun lobby

Here's what we're good at. Nobody, absolutely nobody, does candlelight vigils like we do. When it comes to massive, lavish crime scene floral displays, we are without peer. And as for the always touching and inspirational moments of silence, what else is there to say except that we are — exceptional.

And why not? We get plenty of practice.

But when it comes to doing much of anything to address the endless gun violence in this country? Well, not so much. That would require work. That would require political will to do the right thing. You see the problem.

So it was hardly a shock in the wake of the record-setting murders of 49 people in an Orlando gay nightclub earlier this month that the U.S. Senate reliably turned into a profile in piffle, once more failing to take up even the most basic, commonsense gun reforms.

After all, if the horrific shooting deaths of 20 first-graders and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 couldn't move the gofers of the National Rifle Association populating the Senate to pass even a few watered-down gun control measures, why would anyone believe that 49 dead revelers in an Orlando gay bar would change any minds? Or hearts?

Why is such an obvious public safety crisis so seemingly impossible to fix? Perhaps it is because the "public safety" argument is actually a canard.

Would not reasonable voices on both sides of the gun debate, in the spirit of defending "public safety," be able to come to some commonsense resolution on the issue of expanding background checks to include the private sale of guns (duh!) or banning weapons such as the AR-15 assault weapon and its various incarnations (double duh!), whose only purpose is to efficiently kill people?

But it's not "public safety" that drives the gun discussion. It's paranoia dressed up in faux patriotism.

This didn't begin with the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, but the delusion the government wants to take everyone's guns away certainly has escalated on his watch. Since Obama assumed office, Forbes magazine estimates the gun industry has seen a 158 percent growth rate, going from $19.1 billion in sales in 2008 to $49.3 billion in 2015. And the U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms estimates gun-owning households have an average of 8.1 weapons on hand to fend off all those black helicopters.

It is a pretty vivid image of how the gun debate has drifted off to Crazyland when there are pockets of people who feel they can't order a ham sandwich at Subway unless they are openly packing their assault weapon pacifier.

If the "public safety" flap-jawing was truly intrinsic to the gun control discussion, then Congress would have heeded the vast majority of bipartisan public opinion (including from gun owners) in support of tightening background checks and banning assault weapons. And the Florida Legislature never would have approved the inane "stand your ground" law or a host of other measures making it easier to shoot one another, which the state's law enforcement community opposed as a threat to "public safety."

And thus first-graders will continue to be slaughtered. Nightclub patrons will continue to be at risk. Office workers celebrating Christmas will continue to be targets. Moviegoers will continue to wonder if they'll get past the previews in one piece. And the rest of us will continue to wonder if simply beeping at another car in traffic is the equivalent of last rites. All because Congress doesn't care. The Florida Legislature doesn't care.

What these tools of the NRA do care about is keeping their jobs. You want reasonable gun control? There is a way, and you're going to have to pony up for it.

This nation will never undertake commonsense gun control until our elected officials begin to face real consequences at the ballot box for their gutlessness. And that means matching the NRA's disproportionate political influence dollar for dollar and then some.

Watch a few senators and House members lose their seats solely and simply because they failed to support expanded background checks to include the sale of all weapons or ducked and covered when they had an opportunity to restrict the purchase of assault-style guns, and the tide will begin to turn in favor of rationality. After all, nothing focuses the mind more pointedly than a concession speech.

Until then, the candlelight vigils, the floral displays and the moments of silence will continue unabated. Practice, practice, practice.

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