Columnist Karen Gardner: Do something about guns, already

  • This June 29, 2016, file photo shows guns on display at a gun store in Miami. AP

Published: 8/13/2019 6:00:16 PM

Last week I spent three glorious days on Cape Cod immersed in birdwatching and consuming large quantities of fried fish. I was hoping this month I would take a break from politics and write about my beloved birds and the thrill I experience while watching them fly through the wind-blown salt marsh.

I would write about the whimbrels I spent hours in search of, with camera in hand, hoping to catch them hunting with their long-curved bills in the sand for their favorite meal, the fiddler crab, and also about the too many photos I took of a dozen snowy egrets stirring up a tidal pond with their big golden feet as they fished for dinner.

It was a relief to spend some time not thinking about assault rifles, massacres of innocents and gun control that never seems to happen. It was also a relief not to think about the empty, vacuous — when not overtly racist — statements and actions of our current president. But there is no escaping current events, at least for me.

I seem to be stuck on a widely circulated photo of the president with his wife, Melania, close by his side, that was taken in an El Paso, Texas, hospital just days after a racist, white supremacist gunman opened fire in that city, killing 22 and injuring 26.

Trump is beaming, a huge smile on his face and he is giving the camera the thumbs up. His wife holds a newly orphaned infant, a child who lost both parents, shot dead in the massacre that took place the preceding Saturday. Melania is also smiling. This child is too young to understand what is happening to him, that these people are opportunists that clearly view him as a prop and nothing more.

It was a campaign photo op. Yes, look how the president came to console the victims of this terrible event. See how much he cares. Will his supporters see that? Or will they see his very inappropriate and empathy-free affect. And what in the world are they doing putting that child in a photograph that will live on the internet forever? Clearly, what’s best for that child is not on their minds.

Everyone who cares about stopping this epidemic of gun violence is hoping that this time there will be new federal legislation that will finally make real, enforceable universal background checks a reality. And that assault weapons will be outlawed in this country. And why not?

In Dayton, Ohio, the scene of the second massacre that occurred that weekend, it took the shooter 32 seconds to kill nine people with his semi-automatic assault weapon and injure 27 others. Thirty-two seconds. And it only stopped because police were on hand to stop the killing.

Thirty-two seconds, nine dead. What reason can there be for owning such weapons? They’re needed to defend oneself from an attack by the government. Seriously? The Second Amendment to our Constitution was written with muskets in mind that fire one bullet at a time, maybe three per minute, reloading between each shot. The Dayton shooter with his high-powered assault weapon was able to fire off 40 bullets in 32 seconds.

In addition to the speed with which they can be fired, these weapons are designed to do maximum damage. Referring to CT scans of victims’ organs, Dr. Heather Sher, a trauma center radiologist on call immediately after the mass shooting at Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018, wrote “The organ looked like an overripe melon smashed by a sledgehammer, and was bleeding extensively.”… “Nothing was left to repair — and utterly, devastatingly, nothing could be done to fix the problem. The injury was fatal.”

Is this what the framers intended with the Second Amendment, that such weapons of mass destruction should be so easily available to anyone who wants one? Obviously, some people think so and maybe we’ll soon see a push to legalize fully automatic machine guns and then maybe small handheld nuclear weapons. And why not, the Second Amendment — you know — it kind of says we can bear all the muskets we want.

One of the president’s first comments after the shootings, in a tweet, of course, said that “We cannot let those killed in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, die in vain … Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform.”

What, immigration caused these people to die? And the dead from these, and all senseless acts of gun violence have, and always will have, died in vain. Doing something to stop future massacres now after doing nothing to stop them in the past will not make their deaths any less horrific and painful for their families or for those who survived. They all surely died in vain and now it’s up to you, Donald, to finally put a stop to it. Background checks? Assault weapons ban?

But I have very little faith that anything substantive will come of this, just like after every other mass shooting in this country. After the Parkland shooting, the president promised background checks, but he caved under pressure from the National Rifle Association and nothing came of it.

There are at least two bills, H.R. 8 and H.R. 1112, that passed in the House of Representatives in February. One would require background checks on private gun sales and the other would extend the gun purchase waiting period for background checks to complete to 10 days. Up until now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to even bring these bills up for debate, let alone for a vote in the Senate, as he has with most Democratically-backed bills.

Will McConnell (and Trump, of course) allow these bills to be voted on when the Senate reconvenes in September? He says he wants something to happen, but what will that something be?

If history is our guide, the chances are not very good that this legislation will ever see the light of day. But we can still hope, and while we’re at it, we can support those candidates for office who we know will work to stop this epidemic of violence. And we can vote!

Karen Gardner, of Haydenville, a retired computer programmer, is a bird watcher, nature photographer and ukulele player. She can be reached at

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