Only those with the hardest or darkest of hearts look at tragedies like the weekend shootings in El Paso and Dayton and pivot immediately to scoring political points. The rush to condemn any politician for the El Paso shooter’s white nationalist views or the Dayton shooter’s apparent affinity for Elizabeth Warren is not just wrong, but is detrimental to the efforts of those in public life who might want to do something about gun violence.
We must also resist the urge – as political actors – to savage any person trying to move the nation toward healing and solutions. No sooner than President Donald Trump had concluded his remarks Monday – in which he clearly condemned white nationalism, hate and violence – did several Democratic candidates for president issue a stream of profane, vitriolic invectives that likely – especially for those still serving in Congress – render their voices useless in a constructive policymaking process.
Nor can we wait this out. Many conservatives fear opening the Pandora’s box of putting this issue up for a debate on the floor of the House or Senate. The excuse is that no law can legislate the crazies and the truly evil out of existence. They are right, of course. And it is also true that some of the proposed laws would not have prevented any of the mass shootings that have befallen America.
But that’s no excuse for people of goodwill to simply throw up their hands in disgust and say, “There’s nothing we can do.” There likely isn’t a law that can A) pass Congress that would B) stop all mass shootings. But some laws would signal to the American people that we take this problem seriously.
Republicans in Congress should consider the following ideas as soon as possible:
Red Flag Law
As the president stated, and if properly drafted, these laws allow everyday citizens in positions of responsibility to report people who may be a danger to themselves and others. Those being reported should get due process, but temporary placement on a no-buy list is a reasonable sacrifice if it means stopping people like the Parkland, Fla., or Dayton shooters, whose history suggested huge red flags that would have put them at the top of any no-buy registry. Fellow conservative writer David French has a terrific writeup on red flag laws at National Review.
Universal Background Checks
The time has come for the Senate to open a process to consider the various background check proposals that have come forth in recent years. Whether that’s the Manchin-Toomey proposal of a few years ago or some other vehicle, the American people – and a vast majority of gun owners – find it imminently reasonable that one would undergo a background check no matter where and how they were purchasing a gun. Most Americans think we should prevent criminals and mental health patients from purchasing guns, and anything that can be done to cut down on human error in the system would be a welcome comfort.
Policymakers need to be clear with the American people that some of the recent mass shootings would not have been prevented by universal background checks – sometimes, people who exhibit few if any red flags buy guns and commit murder. But, again, that’s no excuse for not constructing a system that could, in theory, offer the possibility of future prevention.
Banning High-Capacity Magazines and Drums
I spoke to a veteran FBI agent about his advice to policymakers on these matters. James Gagliano, a fellow CNN contributor who have I come to trust implicitly on these issues because of the breadth of his experience and scholarship on these matters, said banning high-capacity drums like the one used by the Dayton shooter is “low hanging fruit.” This would not eliminate all the high-capacity magazines already in circulation, but it would send a signal that, as Americans, we are not comfortable with people walking around with the ability to unload 100 bullets in a matter of seconds. We already ban automatic weapons for that very reason. Gagliano compared it to the bump stock issue, which arose after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and said “absolutely” Congress should do it.
Passing an unequivocal resolution condemning white nationalism, racism and violence
There’s no reason a resolution condemning the language in the El Paso shooter’s manifesto and anyone who uses political ideology as an excuse to murder his fellow citizens cannot be drafted and achieve a 100-0 vote in the U.S. Senate. There should be no squabbling on this – it would be of great comfort to the American people to see both parties lockstep on this message.
I wrote after the Parkland massacre that most Americans don’t want overreach on this issue, but rather common-sense, politically palatable solutions that attempt to get at the heart of the problem. Most people understand that there is no cure-all for this, and most people understand that our culture is sick and won’t be saved by politicians in Washington, D.C. None of these proposals erode in any way our Second Amendment, which, along with every enshrined right, must be preserved as we grapple with modern problems.
But there is a template to achieve progress. Both parties – and activists on both sides of the gun issue – came together under the leadership of President George W. Bush to create the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting. That law was updated last year by a Republican-led Congress to fix the system that failed in the case of the Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting in 2017, when the “United States Air Force missed six opportunities to alert law enforcement authorities about an airman’s history of domestic abuse that would have stopped him from legally buying firearms…”
Here’s the political reality: This nation won’t go for mass weapons confiscation, which is the natural outgrowth of the “ban assault weapons” demand of some liberal activists. And, on the other end of the spectrum, the American people will not accept doing nothing as our national psyche has been permanently scarred by these mass shootings.
Finding the sweet spot – aligning Trump, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – is the task at hand. Making sure the American people see our government working together, free of the damnable hyper-politicization already going on in some quarters, is vital.
You cannot legislate the crazy and the evil out of humanity. But you damn sure can let the American people know that political leaders of goodwill exist in our polarized world and that they will set all of the scar tissue aside to reassure a nation asking itself: “What is wrong with us?”