Opinion: When it comes to gun violence, Congress dithers while Americans die

Crosses mark a memorial to victims of the El Paso mass shooting. Despite such continued acts of gun violence, don't expect Congress to act.
(Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

It took back-to-back mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, with 31 people killed and more than 50 others wounded or injured, but some Republican members of Congress are finally coming around on gun control measures.

Sort of.

Apparently following the lead of President Trump, some Republicans in Congress now say they back or will consider a measure that would support state adoptions of “red flag” lawsCalifornia and 16 other states already have them — that allow a judge to order the seizure of firearms from people whose mental state has led family or police to fear they might be on the verge of harming themselves or others.

Trump endorsed the concept in a speech Monday, in which he for the most part ignored gun law proposals in favor of increased access to mental health programs, invoking the old canard that guns don’t kill people, people kill people.


“Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger,” Trump said, “not the gun.”

Never mind that absent the gun people with “mental illness and hatred” would have a lot more trouble killing large numbers of people in a short period of time. Or that the nexus between mental illness and gun violence is relatively small. Our rates of mental illness are not significantly different from other nations, yet our access to firearms and gun violence are.

Still, red flag laws are sound policy, and it’s flabbergasting that they aren’t already standard in states across the country. Even many gun enthusiasts recognize the logic in keeping firearms away from people so unstable they might use the weapons on others. And the laws are usually constructed in ways that preserve the gun owner’s due process rights — they require a court order, are in effect for a limited time, and the gun owner can petition to have the weapons returned.

Yet even that measure might not clear the legislative blockade that is Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader.

McConnell (R-Ky.) has asked some committee chairs to “reflect on the subjects the president raised within their jurisdictions and encouraged them to engage in bipartisan discussions of potential solutions to help protect our communities without infringing on Americans’ constitutional rights.”

“Reflect on” is hardly a call to action. In fact, McConnell’s response seems like just another “refer it to committee” response to a pervasive and disturbing aspect of contemporary American life: Too many people with too easy access to firearms that they then use to kill themselves, family members, neighbors, coworkers and strangers as they go about their daily lives.

“Reflect on,” indeed.

There are serious steps to be taken to counter some of this scourge. Promoting red flag laws is about the easiest step that Congress can take, and the weakest, so of course that is the measure that stands the best chance of passage.


Yet it’s still a long shot.

What we need are mandatory universal background checks on gun and ammunition sales (as is done in California), bans on civilian ownership of combat-style firearms, a more robust reporting system for those who become ineligible to own firearms (through convictions or protective orders), waiting periods between the purchase and delivery dates of firearms, a ban on large-capacity magazines as well as a close look at semiautomatic guns themselves and increasing the age at which people can buy firearms.

What we will get, of course, are thoughts and prayers.

And more death and carnage.