Many of us watched in horror as images of the Las Vegas massacre played over and over in choppy film clips. We listened in astonishment to testimonials of terrified and grieving victims, some of whom lost loved ones in the butchery at a country music festival, and we tried to imagine ourselves in such a melee. Yet, as with every tragedy involving a mass shooting, some lawmakers’ claims of concern and calls for prayer have been followed by equivocation and political cowardice. It’s become a familiar pattern in America.
One can only marvel, too, at the condescending claims of some politicians of how others are crassly “politicizing” the tragedy.
I couldn’t help wondering, as New York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman did last week, what would have happened had Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock turned out to be Muslim. It’s a sure Las Vegas bet we would be politicizing the dickens out of this latest massacre. Many of us would be quick to label all Muslims as terrorists. We would be quick to call for congressional hearings. President Trump would be quick to tweet, “I told you so! Sad!”
Just as some citizens again immediately dismiss even the notion of gun control on the flawed logic it would unfairly and hastily stereotype and penalize law-abiding gun owners, our beloved Congress would be quick to jump to conclusions had a Muslim been firing off rounds and slaughtering innocent Americans from an upper-story perch in the Mandalay Bay Hotel, rather than some enigmatic, white, 64-year-old Vegas gambler without any apparent political agenda. Congress, you can bet, would be crafting and forging and concocting more terrorism laws to unjustly scrutinize more and more Muslims.
Variations of this tragedy, Muslim dynamic or not, play over and over in our history: the Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida, which Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick quickly and crassly politicized for political gain; the San Bernardino shooting in California, which the Trump administration used to bolster its immigration ban on those fleeing predominantly Muslim countries; the Newtown, Connecticut, shootings, which proved that even the slaughter of innocent children isn’t repugnant enough for a country that supposedly cherishes young life above all.
At issue is not the gun itself. Mix with gun owners and you’ll discover they’re not only responsible but fiercely law-abiding folks. Yet one serious question here is why one would acquire a cache of weapons as in the case of Stephen Paddock. He reportedly had 23 weapons, mostly military-style, high-powered rifles, at the time of the Vegas massacre.
It’s time we see at least some common-sense congressional leadership that goes beyond blind obedience to the National Rifle Association, which pads the pockets of many lawmakers (though even it has now called for the Trump administration to regulate pivotal “bump-stock” gun attachments to better align with federal law). This issue should not be about Republicans or Democrats, white or black, right or left, rich or poor. It’s about what’s right and wrong and what those who supposedly represent us can do to deter such massacres going forward.
I vigorously support the constitutional right to bear arms. But amassing a huge pile of weapons, as in Paddock’s case, is unacceptable and should have raised red flags somewhere along the process. No, I don’t want the federal government to deprive citizens of their Second Amendment right. Doing so might invite federal overreach, intrusion, even dictatorship. But an obvious need exists for law enforcement to step in when one’s rights become a clear danger to the safety and security of others.
This is what’s at the heart of the gun debate — or should be.
It pains me to see politicians playing petty politics after the lives of their constituents are lost or destroyed. Yet many of us are also responsible, allowing lawmakers to pledge loyalty to self-interested gun manufacturers with deep pockets rather than to those of us who faithfully vote them in. And for those of us happily and willingly deceived by the manipulative, fired-up patriotic rhetoric of our politicians, keep this in mind: This month was someone else’s tragedy. Tomorrow it could be yours.
Where from here: Get rid of corrupt legislators by voting them out in 2018. Forget about convincing them to do the right thing because they’re sitting in a swamp of denial and greed. These legislators may know right from wrong but choose not to do the right thing because they’re bought off or afraid of losing their seats. And when a legislator governs from that perspective, there’s no hope he will ever see the light.
Republican Congressman Bill Flores, who represents Waco, has made clear he opposes the sale of the “bump stocks” that allowed Paddock to essentially convert semi-automatic weaponry to fully automatic firepower, which is largely prohibited by federal law. Good for Flores. Let’s hold him to his word. Republican Sen. John Cornyn, also of Texas, has called for legislative hearings on the possibility of banning bump stocks. Good for Cornyn. Let’s hold the Senate’s No. 2 Republican to his word. And the Trump administration has blasted and blamed President Obama’s administration for allowing the sale of bump stocks in the first place. Fair point. Let’s see what the Trump administration actually does now to ban bump stocks. To do otherwise would render Trump no better than his predecessor.
Maybe, somewhere along the line, we can even prove the United States of America is more than just a noble ideal brimming with good intentions. Maybe we can prove ourselves worthy by both protecting our cherished rights and ensuring our public safety, something the Founders no doubt intended.