The new Jimmy Kimmel test: How to respond to mass shootings

The Jimmy Kimmel test became the standard in the health care debate, when the comedian emotionally asked whether all heart-damaged infants like his newborn son would have access to coverage.

Now, in a passionate monologue provoked by the Las Vegas massacre, the late-night comedian laid out a new Jimmy Kimmel test – for how to respond to mass shootings by Americans on American soil.

Why, he asks, do our leaders demand action after a jihadi terrorist attack but insist nothing can be done if the killer is a white American with automatic weapons? Both outrages require us to act.

“When someone with a beard attacks us, we tap phones, we invoke travel bans, we build walls, we take every possible precaution to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But when an American buys a gun and kills other Americans, then there’s nothing we can do.

“I disagree with that intensely. Because of course there’s a lot of things we can do about it.”

As Kimmel points out, this “isn’t about gun control” per se or the Second Amendment. It’s about seeking ways to curb the prevalence of mass shootings by Americans, often with weapons meant for military use.

Since June 12, 2016, when a gunman killed 49 at an Orlando nightclub – the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history until Sunday – there have been 521 mass shootings (four or more injured or killed), according to The New York Times. That’s 521 mass shootings in 477 days.

Yet Congress has done nothing to expand background checks, or make it harder for people with mental illness to obtain guns – or to ban military-style semiautomatic rifles, like those used by Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas.

Moreover, you can easily buy unregulated “bump stocks” that enable a semiautomatic rifle to fire continuously like a banned fully automatic weapon. Paddock had at least two bump stocks.

The White House says now is not the time for “political debate” over whether such weapons should be legal. If not now, when?

As Kimmel points out, the founding fathers never authorized AK-47 machine guns (or their like) in the Second Amendment. “They’re weapons designed to kill large numbers of people in the shortest possible amount of time. And this guy, reportedly he had 10 of them in his room apparently legally. Why do our so-called leaders continue to allow this to happen? Or, better question, Why do we continue to allow it to happen?”

It is not impossible to curb the use of such weapons. In 1994, Congress passed a federal assault-weapons ban (with too many loopholes) that was endorsed by former President Ronald Reagan. But, pressed by the gun lobby, Congress let the ban expire after 2004.

Moreover, in February, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the military-style guns used in a disproportionate share of the mass killings in the United States are outside the aegis of the Second Amendment – because they are most suited for military use. Even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a favorite of gun-rights advocates, said in a 2008 ruling that the Second Amendment doesn’t protect weapons such as semiautomatics that are “not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.”

Kimmel put it more directly: “Common sense says no good will ever come from allowing a person to have weapons that can take down 527 Americans at a concert.” Common sense says you don’t let the mentally ill, or people on the no-fly list, buy guns.

As Kimmel noted, when you have a huge hotel fire – you change the safety codes so it doesn’t happen again. “Why would we approach this differently?” he asks. “It’s a public safety issue.”

Yet no matter how heinous the mass murder, the National Rifle Association scares Congress into paralysis. Legislators pray for the victims, then push bills like one last month that would make it easier to buy ammo designated as “armor piercing.”

However, change is not impossible. Australia, after a mass shooting by a lone gunman in 1996, banned automatic and semiautomatic weapons, and has never since suffered a mass shooting. True, America has far more people and guns, yet that is not the message we should take from the Aussies’ brave move. Rather, they have proved that change can occur in a society that clings to its guns.

So when the White House says “don’t politicize tragedy,” it is time to reject such hypocrisy. If Paddock had been named Abu Muhammed, the president would have taken a totally different tone.

“Maybe I’m nuts,” Kimmel says, “but I would like to think we could put politics aside and agree that no American citizen needs an M-16 or 10 of them.” Nor do they need bump stocks.

The Jimmy Kimmel test should be used to confront the hypocrites in Congress and the White House: If you can take tough measures to combat terror attacks on American soil, why not do the same after mass shootings by Americans with automatic weapons?

That is the least we can do to honor the memory of the 58 Las Vegas dead.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer: