Americans have a choice. We may choose to live in a nation where mass shootings are a common occurrence, where not even elementary schools are safe from gun violence, or we may choose to act.
Sensible efforts to curb gun violence need not violate the Second Amendment. They need not unduly impinge on individual freedoms or create an oppressive authoritarian state. This is not a binary choice; this is a conscientious effort to balance the rights ensured by the U.S. Constitution with a desire to curb gun violence.
This, of course, follows last week’s murder of 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. An 18-year-old gunman reportedly barricaded himself in a classroom and started shooting.
On Thursday, The Columbian wrote editorially of our outrage about a society which willfully accepts mass shootings as a fact of life. But outrage without solutions is akin to howling at the moon; as President Biden said Wednesday: “Where in God’s name is our backbone? It’s time to turn this pain into action.”
Action repeatedly has been blocked by Republican lawmakers at both the national and state levels. Congress has considered several measures designed to reduce gun violence, but those measures routinely have died in the Senate.
The House last year passed HR8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, with support from eight Republicans, but the measure has been blocked in the Senate. The House also passed HR1446, the Enhanced Background Checks Act, with support from two Republicans. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, voted against both bills.
Meanwhile, efforts to prevent the manufacture or sale of assault weapons have been scuttled.
This demonstrates the morass into which our nation has fallen. In 1994, Congress passed a 10-year ban on assault weapons, a ban that survived court challenges; by the time the law was expiring, the issue of gun rights had become more polarizing and Congress allowed the law to sunset.
That polarization continues. In contrast to Biden’s plea for action, a Florida state representative tweeted, “I have news for the embarrassment that claims to be our President — try to take our guns and you’ll learn why the Second Amendment was written in the first place.” Texas’ lieutenant governor said: “We have to harden these targets so that no one can get in ever except through one entrance. Maybe that would help. Maybe that would stop someone.” And we were reminded that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott once wrote on Twitter: “I’m EMBARRASSED: Texas #2 in nation for new gun purchases, behind CALIFORNIA. Let’s pick up the pace Texans.”
Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association banned guns during Donald Trump’s speech at the organization’s annual conference. The incongruity is mind-boggling.
Unlike Congress, Washington has passed laws to enhance background checks for the purchase of firearms, limit magazine capacity for ammunition, prohibit untraceable “ghost” guns and prohibit weapons at government events such as school board meetings.
None of these measures will prevent mass shootings. But they reduce their likelihood, and they reflect the public’s desire for action rather than thoughts and prayers.
Balancing Second Amendment rights with public safety can be difficult. But with public opinion polls routinely showing that a majority of Americans support enhanced background checks and a ban on assault weapons, Congress has a template for meaningful reform.