The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Most Americans don’t accept the mass slaughter of children. Why does the GOP?

A woman visits a memorial on June 3 to honor the victims killed in the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Tex. (Jae C. Hong/AP)
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Republicans often throw out platitudes on their refusal to tackle the gun epidemic: We all care about kids, they say. Sometimes their tone becomes defensive: Don’t question our sincerity!

The polls show a different story. While 60 percent of Americans favor tougher gun laws, only 29 percent of Republicans do, according to the latest CBS News-YouGov poll. A significant majority (62 percent) favor banning semiautomatic weapons such as AR-15s, but only 31 percent of Republicans say the same. Support for red-flag laws among Republicans is 20 points lower than among the general public.

It gets wackier from there. Only 3 percent of Republicans say America would be safer if guns were banned; only 13 percent say it would be safer with fewer guns. A plurality of Republicans are convinced the number of guns has no effect on gun violence.

The kicker is that while only 28 percent of the general population thinks we have to accept mass gun murder as part of living in a free society, 44 percent of Republicans do. It’s an open question as to whether Republicans truly believe that claim or simply deny that there are solutions to maintain their belief in unlimited access to guns. But their willingness to accept tens of thousands of deaths each year from gun-related injuries, including small children, should stun and depress the rational Americans who do not think mass murders of schoolchildren are just a part of life.

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The callousness about loss of human life naturally comes up in the abortion debate. Many Republicans, who believe a fetus should be protected from the moment of conception, insist that antiabortion laws would stop abortions. History shows this is utterly false. Rich women would continue to procure abortions; poor women would go to shady operators or try to give an abortion to themselves. The result would be an increased risk of poorer women dying, especially in states where the maternal death rate is high. To follow the cockeyed logic of the pro-gun, pro-forced-birth crowd, these deaths would simply be the “cost” of living in a free society. Not so free for the women involved.

Republicans have demonstrated this same reckless indifference to human life during the covid pandemic. Millions refused to vaccinate or wear masks. The governors and other elected leaders who spread disinformation and encouraged life-threatening behavior were uniformly Republican. Vaccination rates were lower in red states; the death rates there were subsequently higher.

These Republicans, in other words, refused to give up their “freedom” to be carriers of a disease. That freedom from vaccines and masks might have contributed to more deaths (even their own), but — heck — that’s the cost of doing business in a free society.

The GOP has no business affixing the pro-life tag to its party when time and again Republicans insist their right to be free of inconveniences and regulation takes precedence over human life. Democrats should reclaim the pro-life label. They are the party that is willing to “suffer” the mild inconvenience of masks and vaccination and “sacrifice” weapons of war to protect others. They are therefore far more deserving of the “pro-life” mantle.

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