- The US has been plagued by an epidemic of gun violence, and deaths have been soaring recently.
- Despite this our political leaders have done nothing substantial to curb the decades-long problem.
- It’s time for Joe Biden and the Democrats to be courageous and tackle gun safety once and for all.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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Two months ago my column focused on the need to take action to address America’s gun crisis. I was worried mass shootings would speed up as the COVID pandemic slowed down. But none of us could have imagined how tragic the following weeks would be.
There is not enough room in this column to do justice to the 45 mass shootings we have experienced in the United States over the past six weeks. This outbreak of violence started in Atlanta and the shootings have not abated since then. Eight people, including four members of the Sikh community, were killed in Indianapolis on April 15. On April 6, a respected community doctor and his family were killed in South Carolina. On March 26, 10 people were murdered while grocery shopping in Boulder, Colorado. The list goes on, and on, and on.
So far, our lawmakers have provided the usual pablum. The Republicans have, as usual, offered their thoughts and prayers, while offering nothing substantive besides making it easier to obtain a gun. While Democrats from various states have proposed and even passed gun control measures in the wake of these shootings, and Joe Biden has released a list of proposals to help curb the violence, nothing has been done to truly end the epidemic of gun deaths ravaging this country.
What level of tragedy would finally force this country to make real change?
What’s it going to take?
Since the first modern mass shooting at Columbine High School, the US has failed to move in a substantial way on gun safety. While there have been red flag laws passed in some (mostly Democratic) states, just as many states have loosened their firearm laws to allow for open and concealed carry. Federal legislation has gone nowhere, and the Supreme Court has ruled in the District of Columbia vs. Heller that Americans have a fundamental right to possess firearms.
We’ve had Newtown, Parkland, and many others – anyone of which should’ve spurred us into action. We have had 180 shootings in schools alone over the past 10 years, with 356 victims who all had long and happy lives ahead of them. Yet we have done nothing. And there is no reason for hope that the Supreme Court will make our children any safer as it pledges to take on a new Second Amendment case.
The opportunity of crisis
As people across the US have started to get vaccinated against COVID, the veneer of protection against gun deaths is fading and there is no vaccine-like solution on the horizon.
And much like misinformation that drove up the case and death toll during the pandemic, the increase in mass shootings and corresponding inaction of Congress tie directly back to the rise of the extreme right media on cable and social media.
Tucker Carlson claimed that Biden wants to take guns away from law-abiding citizens, which is a claim more at home at a Republican rally than a purported news site. The GOP’s official position is that background checks are outrageous and evil, despite 84% percent of Americans supporting them. There is hardly an issue in 2021 that most Americans agree on, but expanded background checks is one of them. Yet Republicans continue to stand in the way.
Other countries don’t have the same problem. After a horrific mass shooting in 1996, Australia outlawed assault-style weapons. Despite what Republicans might have you believe, Australia has not turned into a despotic dictatorship over the intervening 25 years. In fact, most every other country on Earth has fewer guns and fewer gun deaths than the United States.
Now or never
President Joe Biden has juggled a number of crises in his short time in office, but he has not prioritized gun safety. He urged Congress to reinstate a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, which like background checks is very popular with voters. Perhaps he can come up with a different, uniquely American solution to this uniquely American problem.
It is understandable that Joe Biden doesn’t want to lose his frighteningly narrow majorities in Congress, but his party must take action now while they have the opportunity to get it done. The Democrats have the ideas, they have the public’s support, and they have numbers. The only thing, it would seem, that they are missing is the political will to make a change.
After a full year of one kind of devastating tragedy, we have been faced with a month of another. One that in some ways feels more tangible than a virus. In the 100 days since Biden’s inauguration, he has shown he is up to the task of fighting the invisible killer that has been plaguing America for the past year. Now he must step up and fight the killer that has damaged and taken the lives of thousands of Americans for the past 30.