What our legislators need to do to break the pattern of mass shootings

Faithful pray June 2, 2019, at St. John the Apostle Church in Virginia Beach, Va. Two days earlier 12 people were killed by a gunman at the city's Municipal Center. Among the victims was Mary Lou Gayle, a member of the parish. (CNS photo/Deborah Cox, The Catholic Virginian) 

Again, the bullet. Again, the agony. On May 3, a disgruntled city employee opened fire in a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Va., killing 12 people and sending terrified co-workers running for their lives. This was the 10th mass shooting of 2019 (the F.B.I. defines a “mass shooting” as an incident in which four or more people, not including the suspect, are killed). 

How did Americans react? In a word, predictably. As I followed the coverage, I felt something like the main character in “Groundhog Day,” the 1993 film in which Bill Murray plays a weatherman who gets trapped in a time loop and must live the same day over and over again—Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pa. In the film, the effect of repetition is comic. In the real world—Virginia Beach and elsewhere—it is not. 

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Yet we are repeating the same day over and over. It begins when the news breaks: The drama unfolds live in a terrifying, chyron-ed frenzy on national television, as an army of law enforcers, dressed as for the Battle of Iwo Jima, surrounds the building. Word usually comes that the shooter has been killed or has killed himself. Community leaders, their faces contorted by confusion and horror, then make statements. The usual opinions are offered, none of them new, few of them helpful. Someone demands that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE. Nothing is done. Most of us, exhausted by the whole ghastly spectacle and almost pathologically pessimistic about the prospects for any change, turn our attention elsewhere. Until the next time. 

Most of us, exhausted by the whole ghastly spectacle and almost pathologically pessimistic about the prospects for any change, turn our attention elsewhere.

In the movie, Bill Murray’s character is the only one who knows that they are living through the same event day after day. In real life, on the other hand, most of us recognize the pattern I just described. But if we can recognize it, why can’t we stop it? One reason is the influence of groups like the National Rifle Association. Don’t get me wrong. Most members of the N.R.A. are law-abiding, decent, responsible citizens. My father is one of them. 

But the N.R.A. leadership exercises a hugely disproportionate level of influence over national gun policy. Through its powerful lobby and congressional campaign donations, pro-gun organizations like the N.R.A. have a virtual veto over any firearms legislation. And the gun lobby it leads opposes almost every reform, however modest.

In this way, the N.R.A. is not unlike the pro-abortion lobby, which similarly opposes even minimal restrictions on abortion services—a strategy driven by their fears of a slippery slope. And like the pro-abortion lobby, the N.R.A. leadership is demonstrably out of step with the majority of Americans, who, in poll after poll, say they favor reasonable restrictions on both abortion services and the manufacture and sale of firearms. 

In both of these areas of public policy, then, the political process is controlled by a powerful minority of Americans. Yet prescinding from the merits of this or that reform, surely the vast majority of us who constitute the vast majority of Americans should be able to see that in neither case is this disproportionate influence a healthy thing for our democracy.

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In this way, the N.R.A. is not unlike the pro-abortion lobby, which similarly opposes even minimal restrictions on abortion services—a strategy driven by their fears of a slippery slope.

How do we break the pattern? First, we need legislators who recognize the problem and are willing to buck the special interests by advocating for sensible solutions most Americans would favor. It would also help if we rightsized the influence of lobbyists and campaign donations. To that end, politicians should consider some version of an idea that Peggy Noonan proposed last year in The Wall Street Journal (2/15/18).

What if Democratic members of Congress agreed to stop accepting campaign contributions from the pro-abortion lobby if Republican members of Congress agreed to stop accepting money from the pro-gun lobby? They would take this step simply in the interests of democracy, to create a space in which sensible reforms supported by a majority of voters could at least be considered. Neither side would necessarily have to change its position on these issues, but such an arrangement would at least give both sides greater freedom to negotiate. It would also send a signal that, while disagreeing about some things, our political leaders can still agree about at least one thing: that the health of our democracy is more important than gaining partisan advantage.

In the end, of course, it is up to us, the voters, to hold these men and women accountable. Our failure to do so is literally a matter of life and death. But it would help a lot if the partisans on both sides decided to break the loop by doing something bold, something different. But to do that, they need to stop living in fear of their own shadows. 

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Christopher Lochner
1 month ago

We view such acts in a frenzy, cry out for something to be done and yet nothing is done. Firstly, may I point out the inherently human but ultimately foolish and reactionary response to such tragedies. What is the litmus test for such a horrible act? Would it be one person killing ten over the course of 30 minutes or 10 individuals being murdered during a hot summer night? Why does it become a numbers game and only when it is front page news? I submit that this has become more of a "if it bleeds, it leads" narrative allowing for great personal anguish and rending of garments. But only if it is a mass shooting and certainly not a one-off shooting because they are commonplace and then, so what?
But are shootings commonplace? It depends on where you live. In 2018, Baltimore City with a population of just under 603K the number of murders was 309. Surrounding Baltimore County, with a population of just under 829k, had a murder total of 27. New york City with a population of just under 8.6 million had a murder count of 289. NYC with a population of well over ten times that of Baltimore had almost the same number of murders!! Astounding!
In general, murders tend not to occur in rural and non-urbanized areas. We lovingly ignore this fact. Why so? It may well be in that while more laws are not required the laws already on the books of certain locations are enforced. Yet we see time and time again the thought this is yet another problem which can be legislated out of existence.
Guns have always be easy to purchase. Catalog sales from Sears were available for decades. One could walk into the old Sports Authority chain of stores and walk out with a high quality pistol. They were available at pawnshops.
So why are certain jurisdictions safer than others? My view is very simple. We DO NOT need more laws nearly as much as we need to enforece the laws already in place. In NYC (a template if there ever was one), being caught with an unlicensed gun means jail time (look up the story behind the very foolish ex-NFL player Plaxico Burress, even celebrity status doesn't count!). In Baltimore County, felony by handgun is viewed poorly. When I was held up at gunpoint in Baltimore City, the law was a mandatory 5 year sentence for handgun felony but with a huge asterisk this being only if the charge is not plea bargained. It was and my attacker received 8 years of probation. Baltimore city dwellers live in fear for a number of reasons, one being if you report on someone, they will be out the next day, and there will be payback so you're on your own. We have the laws. They are not enforced and the city lives in fear.
And as for mass shootings? Not really as much of a problem as the ongoing murder epidemic in our cities. Again, when did you last hear of murders in Baltimore City? (One wonders if murder in an unsafe area is much more acceptable than in safe areas and is indicative of an underlying bias. Kids killed walking to school or sitting in a barbershop are OK while kids killed in a nice school is definitely not good.)
What is frightening is a lack of motive behind these murders. Recall the Germanwings Flight 9525 airline murder/suicide where 149 individuals were murdered but not by firearm so seemingly unnewsworthy and inexplicably lost from the public consciousness. What is frightening is the rage which seemingly comes out of nowhere which results in huge numbers of fatalities for which we have no explanation. We still do not understand the motives behind the Las Vegas shooter and the recent knife-wielding murders of 2 in Japan and injury of 18 children (not firearms so underreported...why??) The mental illness issue is frequently downrated as unimportant so the self-serving causes of a specious control may be elevated. Certain groups on both sides of the issue certainly are in love with themselves.
Old timers who were street brawlers in their day, lament how a situation which would have resulted in only a broken nose now means death. The payback must be vicious and extreme. Seemingly, there is little sense of a person's own value unless someone else knows who is the most powerful. This is an ongoing issue which tragically does appear to bind us in the modern human sphere. Why? We need to get a handle on this or there will be little real change other than rallies and political careers built upon the carnage.
The best step forward is to defocus on meaningless legislation such as those being laws for the sake of appearance only, and attempt to understand the why or we will simply replace one instrument of death with another. Making this into an anti firearm cause celebre will do nothing except bring glory to the proponents of such a goal but not solve the problem.
Reasonable legislation is valid, the elimination of private ownership of firearms in the U.S.A. which was a footnote to a report by the Bishops, is not. Let us have a studied discussion and not an emotional one.
One more point, perhaps in a world which increasingly does not believe in God or believes in a God of all forgiveness, such heinous acts are unsurprising because, well, there is no punishment or... there is no punishment. So then, why not?

William Bannon
4 weeks ago

You should be writing articles for these websites. I would add though that the USA is composed of super individualistic strands and thus we have some deeply alone people who get worse as they exacerbate their alienation via drink and media e.g. Bronson type movies etc.
I had an attempted home invasion in early May at 2 in the morning and thank God I had a loaded shotgun next the bed and motion detectors. The front door exploded as all three locks were broken simultaneously...dead bolts are a delusion...only butressing stops front door home invaders and you need a nearby step for that which I have. Cut a thick dowl to be just several inches longer than that distance and place it from the step base to the door. And practice with a shotgun but use birdshot for distant neighbor safety. Five years ago I fought a burglar to his defeat but home invaders have guns so you need one because the USA can’t search bad guys homes without probable cause and thus gun laws will always be swiss cheese in a sense. Bad guys don’t buy their guns at gun shows. They buy them from car trunks of traveling traffickers.
My invaders left when my buttress, my shotgun, my motion detectors added up to too much work for them. Jesuits live in community which get attacked rarely....ergo....they don’t get it. I’m in a gentrification area of mixed poor and affluent and have a lone Filipina widow on my block with a pistol and a motion detector which I gave her.

Lisa Weber
3 weeks 4 days ago

The NRA is more like the anti-abortion lobby than the pro-choice lobby because a consistent 55-60 percent of Americans want abortion to remain legal. A majority may also want more restrictions on it than currently, but they don’t want it to be made illegal. The anti-abortion minority will not accept that reality.

Banning abortion is often lumped with banning contraception as well. Even fewer Americans want contraception restricted. Making contraception difficult to obtain along with making abortion illegal would promote sexism, inequality, and taking away individual freedoms in order to give more power to institutions. I don’t see the anti-abortion marchers protesting the genocide in Yemen or the inhumane treatment of migrant children at our southern border, so their protestations about the sanctity of human life seem insincere. I believe their real motivations are related to acquiring and wielding power. Politicians pander to the anti-abortion voting bloc because they are one-issue voters. The bloc is big enough to swing elections. It wants to establish minority rule about abortion, so it will accept minority rule about other matters. Gun control is one of those other matters. It is unsurprising that the anti-abortion voters, the NRA, sexism, and racial and wealth inequality are all associated with the GOP. Those things all go together and they have found a home in the GOP. And the GOP is working very hard to establish minority rule with packing the courts, making huge amounts of money available to politicians, and gerrymandering. Our country is in danger because of it.

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