I don’t know if you heard, but this week a boy with a handgun killed two of his fellow students at a high school in Kentucky. “It is unbelievable that this would happen in a small, close-knit community like Marshall County,” said the governor, Matt Bevin.
Actually, that part is completely believable. Given that another school shooting this week was in Italy, Texas, population under 2,000. And that two months ago, 25 people were shot to death while attending church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, population 362.
It’s about guns, not population density. And it is a huge story. But I know, people, you have been beating your heads against the wall about this issue forever, and a certain numbness creeps in. “You had the worst mass shooting in the country in Las Vegas, followed by a really horrific event in a church. People just get worn out,” said Mark Kelly, who co-founded a gun-safety organization with his wife, then-Rep. Gabby Giffords, after she was shot in the head while meeting with her constituents.
Donald Trump — who yelled about “carnage” in big cities during his inauguration speech — has said not a word about the Kentucky shooting except to tweet his “thoughts and prayers.” (Even that, commenters noted, came nearly 24 hours after the prime minister of Canada sent his sympathies.) It is highly unlikely this lack of focus was due to weariness. “You’ve got to wonder,” Kelly said in a phone interview, whether the president would have had a more intense reaction if the news reports suggested “the shooter was of a different ethnicity.”
True that. During his government-shutdown-immigration rants, Trump kept pointing out that the man who killed eight people with a truck in Manhattan had come to the country through a visa lottery system. That happened Oct. 31. Since that time, 73 people have been killed in mass shootings in this country. But about gun regulation we have not heard a presidential peep.
The unusual thing about that terrible Manhattan tragedy is that it was not committed with a gun. Depending on how you count them, we’ve had around 30 acts of terrorism since 9/11 that involved multiple deaths. More than half were committed by right-wing extremists (think Charleston church shooting). And virtually all of them were gun violence.
So, this is the time when we talk about gun regulation. Come on. Energize.
We are resigned to the fact that there is nothing, no matter how horrific, that will persuade any politician in the thrall of the National Rifle Association to consider even the most modest gun-safety legislation. After the Las Vegas massacre, in which the murderer had purchased at least 55 weapons in the year leading up to the shooting, Kentucky’s Bevin seemed to feel the most unbelievable part was the call by “political opportunists … for more gun regs.” He tweeted: “You can’t regulate evil …”
Maybe not, but you can definitely try to disarm evil. A super-modest bill banning bump stocks – the device the Las Vegas killer used to turn the semi-automatic rifles he could buy legally into functional machine guns – was introduced in Congress and then shuffled away. Las Vegas can’t ban bump stocks since there’s a state law prohibiting municipalities from doing that kind of thing on their own. Nevada is very strict about this, although not nearly as strict as Kentucky, which makes elected officials criminally liable for passing gun-safety laws.
Another super-modest bipartisan bill aimed at beefing up the background check system was introduced after the church shooting in Texas, in which the mass murderer never should have been cleared to buy a gun, even under the stupendously lenient U.S. system. And nothing has happened.
“It’s a little stuck,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., one of the co-sponsors.
Trump’s call for action after the Sutherland Springs church shooting was limited to one tweet. (“May God be w/ the people … The FBI & law enforcement are on the scene.”) Nine days later, when a man with a history of mental illness and a semi-automatic rifle crashed through the gates of the tiny four-classroom elementary school in Rancho Tehama, California, spraying bullets, there was no mention at all. Some people suspect Trump would not express any concern about California if the entire state cracked off and fell into the sea.
Meanwhile, our president is running a re-election campaign ad (“Oh God,” moaned the nation) that announces that “Democrats who stand in our way will be complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants.” Do you think he feels responsible for the 15,583 gun violence deaths — suicides not included — that occurred during the first year he was president?
The good news — you needed some, right? — is that the gun-safety advocates are not worn out. “Every great social change movement had moments where you had to convince yourself not to give up,” Murphy said.
If they keep at it, someday we'll get a new president who doesn’t believe the only answer to mass shootings in public schools is an occasional tweet about thoughts and prayers.