One custom President Trump has honored (among the many he hasn’t) is lowering the flag at half-staff to reflect the nation in mourning. Okay, there was that one time last year when he had to be harangued into keeping the stars and stripes lowered for a respectful period after the death of war hero Sen. John McCain of Arizona, but stick with me for a second. In the wake of the mass shootings over the weekend, the president once again issued a proclamation ordering flags to half-staff until Aug. 8 (a date that was fraught with problematic symbolism, but I digress).
State and local officials always follow the president’s lead. Mayor Gary Phillips of San Rafael, Calif., was one of them. But he is also doing at the local level what I’ve been thinking should be done at the federal level. He has ordered flags on city property to be lowered to half-staff until Congress does something — anything — about guns.
Standing inside the entrance of his City Hall, Phillips told reporters, “I’ve been asked a number of times to lower the flag in honor, which I have always done, but in this case, I’m not going to put the flags back up until I see some action by Congress. I think it’s way past time for them to get off their dime and do something about this matter.”
Seeing the American flags at half-staff in Washington the last few days, I had the same thought as Phillips. The flags should stay down. One, because it’s only a matter of time before we’ll have to mourn the evil actions of a mass murderer. But also because it would be a visible and embarrassing reminder to Congress that it has done nothing at the federal level to curb gun violence. Not after one of their own, then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), was shot while doing a constituent meet-and-greet outside a supermarket near Tucson in 2011. Not after 20 children and six adults were slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. In response, a slew of gun control efforts were blocked in the Senate. Congress failed to move after the murder of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (2018), after the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando (2016), after the mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas (2017) — sadly, I could go on.
None of the positive talk on background checks and other gun control measures from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Trump moves me. We’ve seen this movie too many times before. Remember that time Trump made Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and other Democrats in the Roosevelt Room of the White House smile from ear to ear when he said, “It would be so beautiful to have one bill that everyone could support. It’s time that a president stepped up.” That was as true last year as it is now.
Look, I know having the flags stay at half-staff until Congress acts will never happen. But, damn it, it’s worth putting the idea out there, if only to keep the conversation on gun control going. Then again, maybe other localities around the country will follow Phillips’s lead. After all, good leadership always flows from the bottom up.
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