Last night, as the country watched the aftermath of yet another mass shooting at an American school — the 239th school shooting since Sandy Hook in 2012 — word came that President Trump didn’t want to make a statement about it. Apparently his aides prevailed upon him, so this morning he came before the cameras and monotonically read some words off the teleprompter, none of which addressed what we might do to make more school shootings less common.
Trump offered a slightly extended version of “thoughts and prayers”; in other words, I feel bad about what happened, but I certainly don’t want to do anything about it. “We are here for you,” he told the people of Parkland, “whatever you need, whatever we can do to ease your pain.” He went on:
“We must also work together to create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life, that creates deep and meaningful human connections, and that turns classmates and colleagues into friends and neighbors.”
Because if there’s anything we know about Trump, it’s that he cares about creating deep and meaningful human connections.
Let’s return to Earth. If we actually want to do something about gun violence, both the dramatic mass shootings and the relentless toll of 30 or so gun homicides we experience each and every day, there is something we can do. It’s simple and straightforward. Are you ready? Here it is:
Don’t vote for Republicans.
I’m sorry if you find that too partisan. And I realize that there are many reasons you might have for voting for candidates of one or the other party that have nothing to do with guns. But the fact is that one of our two parties has in recent years decided that it will stop any and all efforts to address gun violence, no matter how reasonable they are and no matter how much of the public favors them, even something like universal background checks that is supported by more than 90 percent of Americans.
So if you vote for Republicans, you are voting to make sure we do absolutely nothing about this problem, a problem that kills around 30,000 Americans every year. You might say, “That’s not what I’m voting for. I’m voting for low taxes and less regulation and restrictive abortion laws.” Sorry. You may be voting for those other things, too, but if you vote for Republicans, you are most certainly voting to make sure we do nothing about gun violence.
This is a reality that we seem to have trouble saying plainly. Conservatives sometimes complain that on the gun issue, journalists let their biases show through, which is a legitimate criticism insofar as many in the media do in fact become emotional when they see a bunch of children brutally murdered (terribly unprofessional, I know). But the truth is that they also go to absurd lengths to avoid saying anything that might sound too partisan. Again and again, in the aftermath of these massacres, media figures lament that “Washington” and “politicians” and “Congress” can’t seem to get it together to act.
But it is Republicans who have stopped any attempt to address gun violence. Not the city of Washington, not the system, not the institutions — Republicans. The Senate doesn’t filibuster every gun safety bill — Republicans do. The House doesn’t refuse to allow those bills to come to a vote — Republican leaders do. Washington didn’t pass a bill last year making it easier for people with mental illnesses to buy guns — Republicans in Congress did, and Trump signed it.
But isn’t the NRA the real problem? No. The NRA is made up of loathsome ghouls, but it’s also an interest group like any other. Doing its bidding is a choice. Whatever power the NRA has flows through elected officials, nearly all of whom are Republicans who have made a choice to ally themselves with the organization.
And don’t tell me that the NRA is just too powerful to stand up to. It isn’t. It’s like any other interest group that tries to influence elections: In good years for its favored party its candidates win, while in bad years for its favored party its candidates lose. The NRA can be beaten, and all it takes is for people who don’t agree with its goals to get out and vote:
I want to remind everyone about Virginia 2017: In the 13 races where pro-gun control Democrats squared off against NRA Republicans, Democrats won 12. Top of the ticket — Northam, Fairfax and Herring — had F NRA ratings, and all won. It’s not hopeless.
— Joan Walsh (@joanwalsh) February 15, 2018
Just to be clear, I’m not saying that voting for Democrats will in and of itself solve the gun violence problem. While their hearts are in the right place (generally speaking) on this issue, Democrats are often feckless and cowardly, at least some of them. Because they’re politicians, they have to be pushed and prodded and made to fear for their jobs if you want them to do the right thing. Some of the policy changes they propose will be more complicated to implement than others, and some will be more effective than others.
But while voting for Democrats is no guarantee that we’ll begin to solve the gun violence problem, voting for Republicans is a stone-cold, absolute, ironclad, 100 percent guarantee that we won’t.
The GOP wasn’t always implacably opposed to any sensible action on guns, and perhaps at some point in the future it will no longer be. But it is now. And maybe you think that periodically watching a bunch of schoolchildren get massacred is a reasonable price to pay for the glorious freedom that can be obtained only through owning an AR-15. Or maybe you think that the other things you get from voting Republican, like tax cuts or rollbacks in environmental protections, are so important that they outweigh any considerations about guns.
But either way, if you actually care about gun violence, every time you step into a voting booth you have a choice about whether you’re going to at least make an attempt to do something about it. Or whether you’re going to cast a vote for doing nothing.