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Cries of ‘Do something!’ may finally be working

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Sunday, August 11, 2019

There’s obviously a lot that’s frightening about last weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, and the one before them in Gilroy, California on July 28.

But one fact from each incident should strike fear into the heart anyone thinking seriously about what to do to stop mass shootings and gun violence in America: It’s how quickly law enforcement was able to respond but still ultimately fail to stop a gunman from inflicting mass carnage.

In each of the shootings, police officers were able to engage the gunman swiftly, taking half-a-minute to kill the shooter in Dayton, less than a minute to take out the Gilroy gunman, and 6 minutes to arrest the El Paso shooter. Despite those incredible efforts, the three gunmen were still able to leave the following record of carnage: 22 people murdered in El Paso, nine people killed in Dayton and three killed in Gilroy. Scores of others were injured.

Why did it happen? Because in each case, the gunman was carrying a military-style rifle with high-capacity magazines that allowed him to fire rapidly, getting off a maximum number of rounds in a minimum amount of time. In the Dayton shooting, for example, the gunman fired 41 shots in less than 30 seconds, striking 14 people with his bullets.

Many skeptics of gun-control laws, including President Donald Trump, like to talk about the “good guy with a gun” theory — how a good guy with a gun can always stop a bad guy with a gun. And in all three recent mass shootings, good guys — police officers — did stop the bad guy. Unfortunately, the evidence plainly shows that good guys with guns can’t stop bad guys with guns fast enough if the bad guys are armed with military-style weapons, which they will continue to be unless our nation’s gun laws change.

The recent massacres have spurred new demands for gun-control measures, including a ban on the sale of military-style weapons to the public. While there’s growing support for such a ban in the U.S. House — 200 Democrats have signed onto a bill written by Rep. David N. Cicilline of Rhode Island to reinstate the expired 1994 assault weapons ban — even those favoring it say it’s unlikely to go anywhere right now. That’s true given that nearly all House Republicans oppose the ban and the Senate is still firmly under the control of GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who’s refused to take up other gun-control measures in the past.

Two notable exceptions in the House are Republicans Michael R. Turner, who represents Dayton, and Brian Mast, who represents Parkland, Florida, the scene of a mass school shooting in 2018 that killed 17. Both now support a ban on selling assault weapons, an unfortunate indication that it may take a shooting massacre in your congressional district to support sensible gun reform.

While an assault weapons ban may still be out of reach for now, there were suggestions late last week that other gun reforms may at last be gaining traction. McConnell said in an interview on Thursday that he’s talked to President Trump and both are open to discussing some new restrictions on gun sales. When the Senate returns to session, McConnell said the focus will likely be on expanding background checks for all gun sales — the subject of one of the House-approved bills that McConnell has refused up till now to take up — and so-called “red flag” legislation. The latter refers to laws allowing law enforcement or family members to seek a court order preventing someone deemed potentially dangerous from obtaining a firearm. Strikingly, McConnell also suggested an assault weapons ban will likely be discussed.

It remains to be seen if any of these talks McConnell is agreeing to will go anywhere. There have been past attempts to pass a universal background check law — a common-sense reform now favored by more than 90 percent of the American public, according to one recent poll. The most recent effort to do so actually happened in the Senate in 2013 following the mass murder of 20 students and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. The bill passed the Senate but went nowhere in the House, which was then under GOP control. Many blamed the influence of the National Rifle Association, which opposes all gun-control measures out of hand, for pressuring GOP House members to reject it. Many also said if a background-check law couldn’t pass then after such a horrific tragedy, none ever would.

A lot has changed since then, however. One key change is the decline in the NRA’s power. Beset by internal squabbles and financial scandal, the gun owners lobby has seen its influence decrease since the 2016 election. The change from GOP control of the House to Democratic control also points to movement on common-sense gun reforms.

Finally, there’s the plain fact that mass shootings have continued unabated. In 2019 alone, there have been 250, which averages out to more than one a day. The shootings are upping the pressure on elected officials to try things — even things they may have opposed in the past — to counteract the violence. The cries of “Do something!” heard in both El Paso and Dayton after last weekend’s shootings may finally be cracking through the wall of silence in Washington, D.C. when it comes to common-sense gun reform.

The Daily Advance

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