In the aftermath of Sunday’s massacre in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, the House of Representatives will soon pass a bill that would make mass shootings easier. That’s an unfair way to frame the issue, but it’s not inaccurate.
The House is preparing to take up the Sportsmen Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, which not only loosens restrictions on hunting and shooting on public lands, but also includes two provisions that don’t exactly seem essential to sport shooters. One would legalize the sale of armor-piercing bullets as long as the manufacturer declares that the ammunition is intended for sporting purposes. The other would loosen longstanding federal regulations on silencers.
There is little question that the bill, strongly supported by the National Rifle Assn., will pass in the Republican-majority House. After that, the House will take up a separate bill that would allow people whose states permit them to carry concealed weapons to take their guns into other states, regardless of local regulations.
And that’s where we are on federal gun control legislation: not paralyzed, but worse. Congress is moving to make powerful weapons and ammunition easier to obtain, transport and use as quickly as the NRA can find regulations to undo.
The carnage in Las Vegas won’t change that. The last time Congress came close to passing tougher restrictions on gun sales was after Sandy Hook in 2012, when the Senate had a Democratic majority. The effort failed, however. If it couldn’t happen after Sandy Hook, the Connecticut elementary school where 20 children died, it’s not going to happen now.
Instead, gun control has become just another tool to mobilize partisans on each side.
As recently as 2007, gun control was a bipartisan issue. In that year, a Pew Research poll found that 45% of Republicans thought it was more important to regulate guns than protect gun owernship. This year, that number has fallen to 17%.
In 2013, two gun-owning senators, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, collaborated on legislation that sought to tighten the leaky federal requirements for background checks on gun buyers. Now, gun control is a bright line dividing one party from the other: Democrats for, Republicans against, with only a very few impotent exceptions.
In raw electoral terms, the GOP’s ownership of the gun issue has turned out to be a disadvantage for Democrats. Many gun owners in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin once voted Democratic; all four states went for Barack Obama in 2008. In 2016, with the two parties’ difference on gun issues sharper than ever, all four went for Donald Trump. Guns aren’t the only reason for the shift, but one lesson to Republicans is: Don’t even think about defying the NRA.
In his brief remarks Tuesday, Trump called the Las Vegas shooting “an act of pure evil.” That’s what opponents of gun control often say when this happens, as it does with tragic frequency. Their real message is: The problem of evil is insoluble, so don’t expect the government to solve it. It’s God’s problem, not ours.
That logic is flawed, of course. Yes, evil exists in the world, and it cannot be eliminated. But the first duty of any government is to protect its citizens from evil as best it can. That’s why we have laws, and police departments that enforce them.
In his inaugural address, Trump decried the violent crimes “that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
But the carnage hasn’t stopped. When it comes to mass shootings, the president’s party hasn’t done anything to stop it.