There were a couple of remarkable moments Wednesday in Washington, D.C., and later in Sunrise, Fla., a few miles from where 17 people were slaughtered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week. The first was a televised meeting between President Donald Trump and survivors and relatives of children killed in school shootings. The second was a CNN-hosted town hall that brought together survivors of the most recent massacre, other local residents, elected officials and a spokesperson for the National Rifle Association. There were frank discussions in both gatherings. They made for good cathartic theater.
But the discussions were also meaningless, as far as meaningful action is concerned.
Trump told the gathered relatives and survivors that he favors the Fix NICS Act (which he endorsed last week) to reward local governments that follow existing laws asking them to voluntarily submit names of people determined ineligible to own firearms to be added to federal background check databases. The measure also would use financial incentives to force federal agencies to comply with the law.
In the greater scheme of our gun problem, that is half a baby step, but at least it moves in the right direction.
Trump also argued for more firearms in schools to let teachers, custodians, guidance counselors and others who have gone through special training mount a counter-attack against a gunman, endorsing the romanticized view that when the action comes, everyone gets to be a Charles Bronson movie character. That is a deadly stupid idea, as experts and the experienced keep telling us.
Trump also tweeted Thursday morning that he supports “comprehensive background checks,” which he didn’t define, and would consider raising the minimum age for buying rifles to 21 from the present 18 (the Parkland gunman, 19, bought his AR-15-style rifle legally). If Trump meant he endorses a move to universal background checks, that would be a welcome (currently, private transfers are not covered under federal law, though California and many other states have their own tighter requirements).
But more than an hour after tweeting that, Trump also tweeted a love note to the NRA, which strongly supported his candidacy and which opposes universal background checks.
So don’t expect meaningful White House action on that any time soon.
This gets at the fundamental problem with trying to push through common sense gun control laws, such as universal background checks, let alone more controversial measures, such as banning semi-automatic firearms altogether. The GOP and the NRA are locked in step to oppose tightening access to firearms, and Democrats are not united on the need for more stringent controls.
The NRA and its allies have a lot of political power, and they use it ruthlessly. Anyone — from average citizen to elected official — who expresses a contrary view to the NRA’s a gun-in-every-pocket worldview gets blasted. In fact, Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA, told the conservative CPAC group Thursday morning that “so-called European socialists” are trying to take over the government and that those seeking to limit access to firearms “hate individual freedom.”
No. In fact, we embrace individual freedom. But we do condemn the idea that one person’s ability to own a gun trumps everyone else’s freedom to go about their daily business without having to worry about getting shot. And tying gun control advocates to the invention that socialists are trying to take over the government is little more than reborn McCarthyism.
Still, the solution to our gun problem is as simple as it is difficult to achieve: Countering the electoral and lobbying power of the NRA and its allies. This ultimately is a political issue.
You have to admire the Parkland high school survivors who have sparked national protests over inaction on school shootings. But protests won’t do it. It will take political pressure and direct campaigns to unseat elected officials who refuse to put the safety of their constituents ahead of their dogmatic embrace of the 2nd Amendment and their fealty to the NRA and its allies.
That will take time. And organizing. And stamina.
But it can — and must — be done.