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Now can we talk about gun control?
Unless something is done, and soon, the Buffalo outrage won't be the last mass murder by a white supremacist
This weekend, an 18-year-old white supremacist gunman murdered 10 African American citizens in Buffalo. This is the third mass murder in the past three years inspired by the “replacement theory” (as in Jews and minorities will replace us), which was born in the fascistic fever swamps of the internet and is propounded by Fox News through the nightly hate speech of Tucker Carlson, the most watched commentator on cable television. This excellent article in this morning’s New York Times by Nicholas Confessore and Karen Yourish provides the context.
In August 2019, I wrote this editorial for Modern Healthcare after a similar massacre in El Paso. Sadly, nothing has changed.
That significant gun control legislation has only a slim chance of passage in the wake of recent mass shootings reveals the depths to which the Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate and White House have sunk in their willingness to flout public opinion.
According to polls taken well before the early August carnage in El Paso and Dayton took 31 lives and wounded more than 50, two-thirds of Americans backed stricter gun laws. That’s the same level of support when Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed the 1993 Brady bill, which required stricter background checks for purchasing handguns, and the 1994 assault weapons ban, which was repealed in 2004.
When Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine spoke to a crowd of mourners in Dayton, the people chanted, “Do something! Do something!”
Yet a few days after the shootings, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s hometown newspaper, the Louisville Courier-Journal, reported he was “unlikely to accept gun control legislation.” Instead, McConnell instructed Republican Senate committee leaders to talk with Democrats about “potential solutions to help protect our communities without infringing on Americans’ constitutional rights.”
It’s not just the $1.2 million in campaign contributions the National Rifle Association has given McConnell over his 34-year political career. He’s a true believer. He told an NRA convention in 2014 that “the liberal establishment in Washington doesn’t understand Kentucky values … As long as Washington attacks our heritage, I’ll fight back.”
Yet it wasn’t Daniel Boone who drove from the Dallas suburbs to El Paso, a peaceful border town where cross-border commerce is common. It was a self-appointed white nationalist taking up arms against the Hispanic “invasion,” a word used all-too-frequently by President Donald Trump.
Trump, rather than calling attention to the rising share of domestic terror incidents being perpetrated by white nationalists, placed the blame for the carnage on mental illness and video games. “We must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence,” the president said. “Mental illness and hate pulls the trigger, not the gun.”
As with so many things Trump utters, the facts are completely opposite. Research shows less than 5% of gunshot deaths are associated with mental illness and there’s no connection between obsessive video-gaming and violence. “Rates of mental illness are roughly the same around the world,” noted Rosie Phillips Davis, president of the American Psychological Association. “Yet other countries are not experiencing these traumatic events as often as we face them.”
Trump also refused to take responsibility for how the rhetoric of his Twitter feed may be emboldening white nationalists. In recent months, he has repeatedly disparaged Hispanic immigrants, minority Congresspersons, and “disgusting, rat and rodent infested” inner cities. One researcher who focuses on hate speech noted “having the most powerful person on Earth echo their hateful views may give extremists a sense of impunity.”
The gun violence epidemic in the U.S. is much larger than these latest incidents. Nearly 40,000 people die every year from gunshot wounds, nearly two-thirds by their own hand. More than half the 13,000 murder victims (and the perpetrators) are African-Americans living in impoverished urban neighborhoods that have been flooded with guns easily purchased on their periphery or in neighboring states.
The public gets it. To begin reversing the epidemic of gun violence, we need to totally ban civilian ownership of assault weapons since their only use is mass murder; expand background checks for all gun purchases; and screen gun purchasers for suicidal tendencies and the propensity to inflict harm on others.
Dr. Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, spoke for the entire health care industry when she called for “common-sense steps to prevent avoidable deaths and injuries caused by gun violence. We must also address the pathology of hatred that has too often fueled these mass murders and casualties.”