The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The deceitful dodges Republicans use to resist gun controls

Activists help arrange the spelling of "thoughts and prayers" with body bags on March 24, the four-year anniversary of the March for Our Lives rally. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
5 min

We are now embarked upon a distinctively American ritual such as the Super Bowl or the Fourth of July — only much, much grimmer. We are, for the umpteenth time, in the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting. Nineteen children and two teachers were just massacred at an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex., by a teenager who had been able to legally purchase two AR-15-style assault rifles — weapons of war — as soon as he turned 18 years old.

As usual, both Democrats and Republicans react with horror but with widely divergent perspectives on how to respond. Anguished Democrats call for more gun regulation. That makes sense since America not only has more guns in private hands than any other nation in the world (nearly 400 million) but also some of the world’s loosest gun laws. But Republicans want to do, essentially, nothing. They fiercely resist calls to make it harder to buy and carry guns with a variety of deceitful dodges that are no less contemptible for being so familiar.

The most common reaction on the right is to offer, as the Internet meme has it, “thoughts and prayers.” It’s as if Uvalde had been struck by a hurricane or tornado that we poor humans can do nothing to affect. Indeed, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) tweeted, “You cannot legislate away evil.” That is not, of course, the Republican reaction to Islamist terrorist attacks. After Sept. 11, 2001, they did not shrug their shoulders and say “What can you do?” They worked with Democrats to massively beef up airport security while also launching invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Likewise, Republicans have no problem passing legislation to address the perceived evils that concern them — e.g., abortion or critical race theory. Many members of the “pro-life party,” however, simply do not appear to view the murder of children who are out of the womb as an issue that cries out for a legislative solution.

Nana Efua Mumford: I just want to know: How can I protect my 6-year-old daughter?

To deflect gun regulations, right-wingers offer their own, increasingly outlandish proposals for how to avert school shootings. One former FBI agent interviewed on the Fox “News” Channel suggested that parents, instead of buying their kids toys and games, should invest in “ballistic blankets” — as if that would stop a determined shooter. Why not dress kids in bulletproof clothing too?

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A retired detective suggested on another Fox News show that the answer is to install “man traps” in all schools: “a series of interlocking doors at the school entrance that are triggered by a tripwire … and it traps the shooter like a rat.” He did not, needless to say, offer any suggestions for how to pay for this elaborate idea or offer any evidence that it would prove effective.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) opined that “We need to return to God,” as if religious fanatics never perpetrate violence. She also echoed a common refrain on the right: “Our nation needs to take a serious look at the state of mental health today.” No doubt that’s true, and she’s Exhibit A. But (a) there is no evidence that the United States has more mental health problems than any other country and (b) Republicans consistently oppose more funding for mental health services. Indeed, conservatives are targeting mental health programs in many schools for elimination.

Another popular, if self-refuting, GOP talking point is to argue that the answer to widespread gun violence is to make guns more widely available. Sean Hannity suggested a tax break to retired soldiers and police officers who patrol schools. His colleague Jesse Watters called for using covid-19 relief money to hire more school security guards. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wants to arm teachers.

Its advocates don’t care that this theory — “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” — has been invalidated time and again. In the Buffalo mass shooting less than two weeks ago, a store security guard shot at the killer, who was clad in body armor, but did not stop his rampage. In Uvalde, a school district officer shot at the gunman but could not prevent him from entering the school.

The Federalist, a right-wing publication, might deserve some kind of booby prize for the most ludicrous alternative to gun control. It ran an article headlined: “Tragedies Like The Texas Shooting Make A Somber Case For Homeschooling.” So if you don’t have schools, you won’t have school shootings? Genius! But weren’t Republicans just complaining about covid restrictions that kept kids out of school?

Of course, none of these suggestions should be taken either literally or seriously. Republicans have shown repeatedly that protecting “gun rights” matters more to them than protecting the right to life. They aren’t actually trying to prevent mass shootings. They’re simply tossing out farcical ideas to distract the public and fill the airtime until public anger dissipates and gun legislation stalls. Then, very soon, we will have the next mass shooting and we can repeat this same pathetic ritual all over again.