They say you can't talk about guns even after scores of Americans are gunned down at a concert by a lone man and his private arsenal. They say that even discussing policies to stop the next slaughter disrespects the dead. They say this even while rushing toward the cameras to announce their support for half-measures approved by their masters at the NRA. "They," of course, are the craven politicians who get reelected by playing to the most extreme elements in their gerrymandered districts.
When it comes to gun safety, however, "they" are dead wrong.
Maybe the reason that congressional Republicans and National Rifle Association lobbyists don't want to talk about gun safety has nothing to do with showing respect for the dead. Maybe they fear a real debate on the issue because most Americans find their views on guns abhorrent.
After 20 first-graders were slaughtered in Newtown, Conn., 90 percent of Americans said they supported enhanced background checks for gun purchases. Maybe these background checks would have done nothing to stop the Las Vegas slaughter; we won't know the answer to such questions until law enforcement agencies complete their investigations. But most of the police officers I have talked to over the years — the men and women paid to protect your family — overwhelmingly support a better background-check system as a way to keep guns out of the hands of beasts who beat up their spouses, thugs who batter their children and terrorists who want to use Republicans' lax gun laws to kill more Americans.
Your local police chief also probably agrees with the majority of voters who support a ban on the assault-style weapons that were used in Las Vegas to kill and maim so many people in such a short time.
Despite overwhelming support for these policies, the NRA and other gun lobbyists strike fear in the hearts of politicians by stoking paranoia in their constituents that government agents are about to climb into their black helicopters to seize hunting rifles from unsuspecting citizens.
That old NRA propaganda ploy can be counted on to bring in big bucks from scared Second Amendment warriors even after the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that Americans have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Justice Antonin Scalia and the court majority made clear that no politicians in Washington or in the state capitals can pass laws to prevent Americans from owning handguns in their homes for personal protection. But even Scalia explicitly rejected the argument that those constitutional protections extended to military-style weapons.
So, to put this and every other gun debate in context, remember that the NRA and President Trump's Republican Party remain wildly out of step with the majority of Americans and even the most conservative Supreme Court in 80 years. Also remember that most registered Republicans and NRA members support increased background checks and other sensible gun safety laws.
Despite widespread support for such common-sense measures, almost every Republican in Washington still cowers in the corner when it is time to engage in a real and meaningful gun safety debate. They know that after absorbing the shocks of Las Vegas, Orlando, Newtown and so many others, the time to do something far-reaching on guns has come.
But what must be done?
That is a difficult question, but it is made impossible when leaders in Congress refuse to even engage in the debate. You have to wonder when one powerful Republican will finally say that enough is enough, that getting reelected is not worth living in a country where his or her children go to bed afraid that tomorrow might be the day they are gunned down at their bus stop, at their school or at a country music concert.
If politicians don't believe their children live with that fear in the age of Newtown and Las Vegas, they need to spend less time going to NRA fundraisers and more time at home talking with their families.