The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion No, Republicans, prairie dogs don’t matter more than murdered children

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at the U.S. Capitol on June 7 in D.C. (Oliver Contreras for The Washington Post)
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When he was governor of Florida, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) responded to the Parkland school massacre with action: He proudly signed legislation raising the state’s age to buy any firearm to 21, recognizing that the rules for buying weapons such as the AR-15-style assault rifle used by the then-19-year-old Parkland shooter and for purchasing handguns should be the same. Surely, then, Scott would support federal legislation to do the same thing. Right?

Wrong. Scott told CNN this week that he would prefer the states act, ignoring the obvious problem with that solution. Those who want to skirt such rules can simply buy their weapons in some other state with more lenient rules, just as buyers eager to avoid background checks can shop gun shows or private sales. And keeping guns out of the wrong hands will always be secondary to keeping guns out of the marketplace in the first place.

Congress should approve whatever incremental legislation a bipartisan working group of senators is able to come up with. But no one should have any illusions about why the nation is incapable of doing more: the Republican Party’s politics-before-people mind-set, and the moral amnesia that causes Republican politicians to prioritize their careers over their principles and common sense.

Giving in to the fear of MAGA-addled voters is reprehensible, at a time when the fourth-graders slain in Uvalde, Tex., are still being buried. But sadly, it is not irrational.

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Last week, Rep. Chris Jacobs (R-N.Y.), who represents a district that includes the Buffalo suburbs, announced he was ending his bid for reelection. In the November general election, Jacobs would have been favored to win handily — the redrawn district that he would have competed in leans heavily Republican. The problem is the August GOP primary and the fact that Jacobs, in the wake of last month’s supermarket massacre in Buffalo, voiced strong support for a federal ban on assault weapons.

“The last thing we need is an incredibly negative, half-truth filled media attack, funded by millions of dollars in special interest money coming into our community around this issue of guns and gun violence and gun control,” Jacobs said in a statement announcing his retirement. In other words, he took a reasonable position on gun violence and knew that the gun lobby would try its best to crush him.

That is what the Republican Party has come to. A congressman sees 10 of his neighbors slain in a racist killing rampage, takes a stand in favor of reinstating a ban on weapons of war — and has to quit, because common decency and common sense are unacceptable to his party.

Gun violence should not be a partisan issue. Early Wednesday, an armed man from California was arrested near the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, and police say he told them he wanted to kill a specific justice. Bullets and rage have no respect for party affiliation.

The Democratic-controlled House passed a strong package of measures that includes raising the age for gun purchases to 21. Action came after the House Oversight and Reform Committee heard heartbreaking recorded testimony Wednesday from 11-year-old Miah Cerrillo, who described how she survived the Uvalde massacre by smearing a slain classmate’s blood on herself and pretending to be dead.

Cerrillo’s father told The Post that “she tells us, ‘I don’t have friends anymore. All my friends are dead.’”

Roy Guerrero, Uvalde’s only pediatrician, told the House committee of going to the hospital and seeing the remains of youngsters who had been slain. “Two children, whose bodies had been pulverized by the bullets fired at them, decapitated, whose flesh had ripped apart, that the only clue as to their identities were the blood-spattered cartoon clothes still clinging to them,” Guerrero said.

Republicans on the committee focused their questions and remarks on what they said was a need for more law enforcement officers to protect schools and respond quickly to threats. The GOP tactic, in the fraught days after a mass shooting, is always the same: Talk about anything under the sun except the instrument with which the atrocity was perpetrated. Talk about anything but the gun.

When cornered and pressed on the subject, they sound ridiculous. Asked Tuesday why anyone needed an AR-15, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) mentioned target shooting — not exactly what I would consider a “need” — and then added that “in my state, they use them to shoot prairie dogs and, you know, other types of varmints.”

Good Lord. Are we truly supposed to weigh pesky varmints against the shattered remains of murdered children?

Republicans, search your souls. If you can find them.