The U.S. is the only industrialized first world country that is plagued by a wave of gun violence. Our country’s loose gun laws are truly exceptional among first world countries and they even allow deranged individuals to obtain military style assault weapons. Recently, there have been massing shootings by mentally disturbed individuals in Charleston, Chattanooga and Lafayette, Louisiana.
The Republican response to this spate of gun violence and killings is to simply refuse to discuss the issue. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s reaction to the recent Lafayette shootings is fairly common among Republicans. Shortly after those tragic shootings in his state, Jindal said that now was not the time to talk about guns. Instead, he said we should simply focus on mourning for the ones who lost their lives
Under Jindal’s standard, the high frequency of mass shootings makes it virtually impossible to ever address the issue of common sense gun safety. As the Washington Post recently reported, there were 204 mass shootings in the U.S. in the first 204 days of 2015. When are we ever supposed to discuss common sense gun safety reforms when shootings happen on a daily basis?
The other Republican response to gun violence is what I would call the ostrich approach. The GOP simply puts their heads in the sand and denies any connection between our country’s ludicrous gun laws and the wave of mass killings that we continue to endure.
Shortly after the Charleston shootings, the House Appropriations Committee perpetuated the GOP’s strategy of ignorance by voting to bar the Centers for Disease Control from funding any research on gun violence and make recommendations. This ban was supported by Representative Jeff Fortenberry and passed on a straight party line vote. In response to this vote, Representative Nita Lowey ((D-NY) stated: “Preventing research because you worry about the outcome is cowardly. When it comes to gun violence, my friends, this committee won’t give one dime for the CDC to conduct research on something that is killing Americans by the thousands.”
Fortenberry’s vote against basic research on gun violence provides a good example of how he operates when he is Washington, D.C. While he is out of Nebraska, his party bosses and the most extreme elements in the GOP can count on his support. In contrast, when he is in Nebraska he falsely portrays himself as some kind of thoughtful moderate.
The Republican Party hasn’t always been this radical and ignorant regarding common sense gun safety. As recently as the early 1990s, conservative icon Ronald Reagan supported the Brady Bill which included a ban on military style assault weapons and a seven day waiting period for gun buyers. In a New York Times editorial piece in support of the Brady bill, Reagan wrote: “”Every year, an average of 9,200 Americans are murdered by handguns, according to Department of Justice statistics… If the passage of the Brady bill were to result in a reduction of only 10 or 15 percent of those numbers (and it could be a good deal greater), it would be well worth making it the law of the land.”
More recently, shortly after the senseless murder of 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, Senate Republicans voted to deny an up or down vote to a bill with overwhelming public support that would have required background checks for all gun purchases. Both Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer prioritized the interests of gun manufacturers over Nebraskans when they voted with the most radical members of the GOP to reject an up or down vote on this life or death issue.
The so-called Republican “solution” to this epidemic of gun violence has been to demand more money for mental health care. However, those very same Republicans have voted to deny mental health care to millions of Americans by voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act over 50 times in Washington and to block the Medicaid expansion here in Nebraska (and other states.)
In a recent interview, President Obama pledged to continue to work on solutions to this mass wave of gun violence during the last 18 months of his Presidency. In that same interview, Obama correctly pointed out that: “If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it’s less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it’s in the tens of thousands.”
I believe we Nebraska Democrats need to follow President Obama’s lead and do everything we can to save lives by pressuring our elected representatives to pass common sense gun safety measures. Unfortunately, we probably won’t get far trying to lobby the current Nebraska Republicans who serve in Congress. Instead, we need to work hard to elect new members of Congress who will pay attention to the public and reject the out of state special interests who profit from this needless and tragic wave of killings in our country.