I try to say, “Thank you for your service” to members of the armed forces as often as I can. Our troops not only make countless sacrifices for our country but also risk their lives to protect the liberties our Constitution provides. They deserve our thanks and much more.
If you share that view, then tomorrow, when you say your morning farewells to your children, your spouse or other loved ones, you should thank them for their service, too. Because our Congress has decided that they must put their lives at risk of a mass shooting — at school, work or a country music festival — to protect a peculiarly absolutist view of the Second Amendment. The risk they are taking is not trivial. In the past five years, about seven times more Americans have been killed in mass shootings (1,715) than were killed in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (260).
Gun rights zealot Bill O’Reilly encapsulated this thinking when he said that the Las Vegas mass slaughter was “the price of freedom. . . . The Second Amendment is clear that Americans have a right to arm themselves for protection. Even the loons.”
Never mind that other countries — England, France, Germany — manage to be “free countries” without enduring anywhere near the number of mass killings that have become routine here. The United States has had nearly double the number of mass shootings of 24 other wealthy industrialized nations — combined — over the past 30 years. For some reason, freedom is this costly only in the United States.
Is this truly a price we must pay for freedom?
Not according to our courts. Yes, the National Rifle Association has done more than any other organization to shape the makeup of our federal judiciary — pressing senators to block Merrick Garland in 2016, paving the way for the Gorsuchization of the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court has never held that people have a right to own military-style weapons or large-capacity gun clips. Nor are such restrictions unimaginable. Congress passed a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity gun magazines in 1994, only to watch it expire 10 years later. Congress passed mandatory background checks on gun buyers in 1993 but stood idly by as loopholes and poorly maintained databases limited their effectiveness. It requires no intellectual breakthrough to restore the assault weapon ban, ban magazines holding more than 10 rounds, tighten loopholes in the background check system and ban “bump stocks,” the tools used in Las Vegas to convert semiautomatic weapons into automatic killing machines.
Would pressing such an agenda be political suicide? True, the NRA has President Trump and many members of Congress quivering in fear. Never mind that Trump wrote in his book “The America We Deserve” that he “support[s] the ban on assault weapons.” Former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon told a reporter this week that a Trump reversion to that position was “impossible” and would be “the end of everything.”
But it’s also worth remembering that three of the leaders who steered passage of the 1990s gun-control measures were a senator from Tennessee who sponsored the background check bill, a Senate committee chairman who navigated the assault weapons ban through that body and a New York congressman who faced down his committee chair and leadership to get the measures to the president’s desk. Al Gore, Joe Biden and Charles E. Schumer hardly saw their careers end as a result.
Perhaps we are dulled by a defeatist mind-set when it comes to action on guns. Why do we bend to the nonsense that immediately after an attack is “not the time” to have this conversation? Since the United States experiences one mass shooting on average, every day, we have no choice but to discuss common-sense gun measures on the day of an attack. Why do we accept the conventional wisdom and the prescription to “be smart” and acknowledge that all gun-control measures are doomed: Is the gun lobby “being smart” when it continues to block gun-safety measures that have overwhelming public support? And why do we accept the ridiculous cliche that “you can’t regulate evil”? Don’t we ban cheating old people out of their savings or putting razor blades in apples on Halloween because one of the first purposes of government is, in fact, to stop evildoers?
Our country and our Congress need to shake off the “smart” conventional wisdom and become as determined, as fierce and as “extreme” as those who insist that the “price of freedom” is living with Wild West laws in an era of weapons of mass destruction on our streets.
The Constitution does not require our loved ones to face the daily risk of being the next victims of a mass shooting, and the NRA does not get the final word in mandating it: That is up to our representatives and senators — and a president who promised the American people, on his first day in office, that such “American carnage [would] stop . . . right now.”
President Trump, there have been more than 250 mass shootings since you spoke those words. We’re waiting.