“Thoughts and prayers” are fine. Locking arms “through the tears and the sadness,” as President Donald Trump prescribed, is all well and good. But none of this does a damn thing to stop, or even slow, the carnage.
On Sunday, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a disturbed and angry man with a military-style semiautomatic assault rifle opened fire at the First Baptist Church during services, killing 26 people. It was the worst church shooting in modern American history. Think about that: We’ve seen enough mass killings at houses of worship that we can rank them in order.
Why did he do it?
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We may never be certain; the assailant, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, is dead. But we can say with certainty how he did such an unspeakable thing: with a gun designed for warfare, a weapon that has no business in civilian hands.
I’ve written this column before, and I will have tragic occasion to write it again. I don’t care about that. I’ll keep writing it because we cannot become inured to this horrific gun violence. We cannot allow mass killings to become normalized, even though they happen with increasing and numbing frequency. We can accept the loss of life on the battlefield as the price of freedom, but not senseless murder in the church pews.
Now begins the sophistry from apologists for the gun lobby. First they will feign outrage that anyone would “politicize” such a tragedy by seeking ways to prevent such a thing from happening again. Then the National Rifle Association’s water-carriers will choose some gun control proposal and crow about how that specific measure could not have prevented this specific massacre. Therefore, they will argue, we must do nothing at all.
If all else fails, the complicit enablers of horrific gun violence – and that’s what they are – will rush to get in front of the discussion and lead it astray, as the NRA did after Las Vegas by encouraging debate about bump stocks.
Yes, those accessories allow a gunman to fire more rapidly. But a standard AR-15-style rifle is plenty rapid enough. What kills are the high-speed, large-caliber rounds that tear through flesh, bone and brain as if they were tissue paper. But the NRA doesn’t want us to focus on the gun or the ammunition, because then even strong supporters of the Second Amendment might begin asking inconvenient questions.
Chief among them: Why do we make it easier to amass an arsenal of weapons of war than it is to get a driver’s license or register to vote?
The guns most often used in these mass shootings are variations on rifles designed for soldiers to carry into combat. They are not optimized for killing rabbits or deer, but for killing people. They have no business in civilian hands.
The gun lobby claims it is impossible to distinguish between assault weapons and other firearms, but that is preposterous. Of course a distinction can be made. Perhaps Kelley would have embarked on his rampage anyway wielding a shotgun, but he would have had to reload frequently and likely would have been able to kill far fewer people.
Large-capacity magazines are also unnecessary for hunting or target shooting. How do you define what’s large-capacity and what isn’t? Just do it. Pick a reasonable number and write it into the law.
It goes without saying that there should be universal background checks for purchasing firearms. But there should also be enforcement mechanisms, with teeth, to make sure that dealers do not sell weapons to individuals banned from obtaining them. And just as there is a mandatory, comprehensive registry of automobiles, there should be such a registry for firearms and ammunition.
To those who spend part of each day scanning the skies for black helicopters, I say relax; the government already knows who you are, where you live, what you drive and how much money you earn. If you’re on Facebook, you’re probably telling the whole world much more. A week ago, Kelley posted a photo of his assault rifle.
I hear you sighing that none of this, realistically, is going to happen. I respond: But it should.
The United States is alone among advanced countries in having gun policies that facilitate, rather than obstruct, deadly rampages such as Kelley’s. The Supreme Court has made clear in its rulings that the Second Amendment permits reasonable gun control measures. This crisis is political, not constitutional.
You and I have the power to elect leaders who will reduce gun violence. The blood of innocents is on our hands.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.