Last week saw a remarkable televised town-hall meeting dominated by Stoneman Douglas High students and teachers, most of them outraged over the Valentine’s Day mass shooting that left 17 fellow students and teachers dead. The culprit in this massacre: a former student armed with an AR-15 rifle. Only hours later NRA firebrand Wayne LaPierre, speaking before the Conservative Political Action Conference, warned that “opportunists” now use this massacre to push a “socialist agenda” that includes scrapping gun rights.
A more temperate and responsible course is advised by Trump apologist and Republican consultant Ed Rogers in today’s Trib. Two strong points we underline. First, Republicans control the White House and Capitol Hill. The crisis is in their lap. They must respond to not only a growing gun-control movement spearheaded by the next generation of Americans but polls that show even many Republicans recognize the need for tightening gun laws. If Republicans cannot respond with courage and wisdom here, they deserve to lose political power for a generation.
Second, Americans must recognize that none of our cherished constitutional rights are without some restrictions. Just as the First Amendment right to free speech doesn’t allow one to yell “fire” in a crowded venue or encourage mob violence as in the era of lynching, no less than arch-conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made clear in his 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller opinion that the Second Amendment right to bear arms also has its restrictions. While his opinion is championed by gun enthusiasts today, he added that “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
We have repeatedly backed Republican Sen. John Cornyn’s legislation requiring federal agencies and states to produce National Instant Criminal Background Check System implementation plans on “uploading all information to the background-check system showing that a person is prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms under current law,” including measures to verify accuracy of records. (In short, enforce existing laws.) This was introduced last year. Why has this not passed? Congressman Bill Flores of Central Texas demonstrated guts last year in proposing a ban of bump stocks that allow semi-automatic rifles to fire almost as rapidly as fully automated ones (and he took some flak for this). Why is this still in limbo? President Trump now orders regulations effecting this ban. Will he show backbone when resistance arises from the usual suspects?
Arming teachers and coaches? Where will funding for weaponry, training and liability insurance come from, especially in Texas where people already scream murder about school property taxes and the state fails to shoulder its share of the bills? Or is this yet another expense and responsibility dumped on our schools and teachers because of society’s multiplying failures? We can do better than myopic, armchair solutions such as this.