Columnist John Sheirer: Sensible gun laws help reduce mass shootings

  • Crosses showing shooting victims names stand near the First Baptist Church on Thursday in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A man opened fire inside the church in the small South Texas community on Sunday, killing 26 people and injuring others.  AP PHOTO

Monday, November 13, 2017

Republicans follow the same script after every mass shooting. “Too soon. Disrespectful to talk about laws, unless it supports our pro-gun agenda. Thoughts and prayers. Buh-bye!” This script has become a pathetic and predictable reflex that our nation needs to reject.

Donald Trump has made the Republican script even worse. “It’s a little bit soon to go into it,” he said when asked about gun laws after the Nov. 5 Texas church shooting. Then he did “go into it,” inaccurately claiming that better gun laws would have led to “hundreds more dead” by preventing a church neighbor from shooting at the killer.

Trump’s supporters immediately parroted his obvious lie, even though it’s clear that stronger background-check enforcement would have prevented the killer from legally getting weapons but would not have affected the law-abiding citizen who confronted the killer.

Trump also said, “mental health is the problem here,” which is ironic coming from someone who signed a Republican-backed bill making it easier for people with serious mental illness to get guns. The irony is deepened by the fact that Trump and Republicans in Congress have been working to destroy Obamacare, which includes the most significant expansion of access to mental health care in American history.

When Republicans actually do discuss gun laws, they almost always put forth the view that nothing can be done. Following the Las Vegas shooting, the Gazette’s regular conservative columnist devoted 1,000 words to come to the hopeless, helpless, hapless conclusion that changes to gun laws aren’t “solutions” but merely “tokens.”

One Trump-supporting friend of mine put that viewpoint more concisely in a Facebook post after the Las Vegas shooting: “Changing gun laws won’t help. Criminals will be criminals and that’s that.”

That view isn’t just a fatalistic surrender — it’s factually wrong. Improving gun-safety laws can help.

Obviously, no law prevents every crime. But laws do reduce crime. No one with any sense would say that we shouldn’t have laws against child molestation or burglary because those child molesters and burglars would find a way to molest and burgle anyway.

Can you imagine a Republican saying we shouldn’t have laws against terrorism after a terrorist attack? Trump didn’t come on national television after the New York City attack and shrug his shoulders and say, “Laws against terrorism are tokens but not solutions. Terrorists will be terrorists and that’s that. Wadda ya gonna do?”

Gun laws are no different. Better laws that make it harder for dangerous people to get dangerous weapons would make mass shootings less likely.

The recent Las Vegas and Texas shootings are instructive examples. Here are some concrete ways that improved gun-safety laws that might have stopped those terrible tragedies:

1) If we still had the assault weapons ban that Republicans let expire, the shooters would have had a harder time getting their semiautomatic rifles.

2) If high-capacity magazines were banned, the shooters would have had a harder time firing so many shots at one time, killing so many people.

3) If bump stocks were banned, the Las Vegas shooter would have had a harder time converting his semiautomatics to fire like automatics, killing so many people.

4) If Nevada didn’t have such loose laws about carrying weapons, then the shooter might have drawn more attention transporting multiple rifles to his hotel room, possible raising alarms that might have led to preventing the shooting altogether.

5) If Nevada didn’t have such loose laws regulating their frequent gun shows, then the shooter might not have blended so easily into the gun culture of Las Vegas, possibly raising alarms that might have prevented the shooting altogether.

6) If we had better background checks that flagged someone purchasing massive stockpiles of weapons and ammunition, then the Las Vegas shooter would have had a harder time getting so many guns and killing so many people.

7) If we had better health coverage and better background checks to identify mental health and domestic violence issues, then the shooters would have had a harder time getting guns to commit their crimes.

These changes to the laws aren’t perfect, but they’re an improvement. Any one of them might have stopped the Las Vegas and Texas shooters from being able to kill and injure so many people. Obviously, current gun laws didn’t stop them.

None of these improvements to gun laws would stop law-abiding people from owning a reasonable number of reasonable guns for protection. But improvements to the current laws could reduce gun crimes, especially the mass shootings that tear apart the fabric of our nation as surely as they tear apart the bodies of the innocent victims.

Republicans are fond of sending “thoughts and prayers” after every incident of horrible gun violence. I send my love and empathy to the victims of all mass shootings, along with my thoughts and prayers.

For my thoughts, I’m thinking that Republicans in Congress need to stop bowing down to the death-profiteering gun lobby and pass some meaningful improvements to laws that could help reduce gun violence.

For my prayers, I’m praying that Americans will have the good sense to vote out the Republicans who care more about gun lobby endorsements than they do about the lives of the American people.

John Sheirer is an author and teacher who lives in Florence. His most recent book is “Donald Trump’s Top Secret Concession Speech.” Find him at JohnSheirer.com.