The fight against natural killers has also seen impossible dreams come true. Smallpox, which once claimed 400,000 lives a year in Europe alone, no longer exists except in tightly guarded laboratories. Polio is nearly gone. America no longer suffers epidemics of typhoid, yellow fever and diphtheria. New infections and deaths from AIDS have dropped dramatically.
But, while our children and their parents no longer live in dread of the next summer’s polio outbreak, a new mortal danger stalks them. Our schools, which ought to be the safest places, have become magnets for twisted souls hellishly bent on as much death, injury and grief as possible. What better place than a school, with so many concentrated victims? What better means than a rapid-fire weapon designed to cause as much battlefield carnage as possible?
The Valentine’s Day massacre that took 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida was the seventh mass killing at a campus. The first was at the University of Texas in 1966. Columbine High School in Colorado came in 1999, an Amish school in Pennsylvania in 2006, then others in quick succession.
Rapid-fire weapons have figured in most of the massacres, including Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, Virginia Tech University, an Orlando nightclub, a Las Vegas outdoor concert, a church In Charleston, South Carolina, a restaurant in Killeen, Texas, and an office building in San Bernardino, California. According to the Washington Post, 1,077 people have died in America’s mass shootings — including 176 children and teenagers — at the hands of 153 people armed with 292 weapons, nearly all capable of rapid fire. Such events, once rare in the United States and still rare almost everywhere else in the developed world, are now commonplace here. Each seems to inspire another.
“Public mass shootings,” remarked the Post, “account for a tiny fraction of the country’s gun deaths, but they are uniquely terrifying because they occur without warning in the most mundane places. Most of the victims are chosen not for what they have done but simply for where they happen to be.”
We know what could be done, not just about mass killings but about gun murders, accidents and suicides in general. Follow medicine’s successful model. First, stop the spread. Prohibit assault weapons like the AR-15 and buy up those in private hands, as Australia did following its last mass killing 22 years ago. Require universal background checks — no more “gun show loophole.’’ Ban high-capacity magazines. Raise the age of legal possession to 21. Enforce the law about reporting mental illness to the national background check registry. Require manufacturers to child-proof their products.
We know also why nothing is being done. Polls consistently report overwhelming support, even among gun owners, for reasonable measures, but public opinion is lost on the Congress and most legislatures in that regard. Nothing matters but the votes and money that the fanatic leadership of the National Rifle Association can deploy for or against them. Nothing matters, really, except their re-election — no matter how many lives they might save with just a little courage on their part. To them, their offices are worth more than our children.
The NRA spent big and scored big in the 2016 election. North Carolina take note. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the gun lobby invested $30.3 million in Donald Trump’s election and another $20 million on six high-profile Senate races, losing only one. Our Republican Sen. Richard Burr, was helped to re-election with $6.3 million. Among senators, he and fellow Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, ($4.5 million in 2014) rank second and fourth in NRA assistance. How can they be proud? The gun lobby funded one of every nine TV ads in North Carolina in 2016, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
And how did Trump and the NRA claque in Congress respond to the fresh horror in Florida? By casting it as a mental health issue. In part, it is — begging the assault weapon factor — but since they brought it up, let’s look at their record on that. One of the first things they did, a year ago, was to repeal an Obama administration rule that would have made it easier to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. Burr, Tillis and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-Asheville, all voted for that.
Oh yes, they also expressed their grief, their prayers and their condolences — worthless platitudes that heap insults on the injuries. Rep. David Price, a Democrat from Raleigh, called Tillis to account on that by citing four issues that are gathering mold in Congress for lack of Republican support. One would ban bump stocks. Another would lift an effective ban on research into gun violence by the Centers for Disease Research. The new HHS secretary, Alex Azar, told a House subcommittee he’ll go ahead without a law. But there needs to be one to back him up.
A bipartisan bill to ban bump stocks was filed after the Las Vegas massacre. It hasn’t moved either.
To control gun violence, we’ll have to control the NRA’s politicians. Or vote them all out.
We’re suffering not just indifference to the lives of our children but to the soul of our country — in thrall to a ruthless lobby serving an industry that depends on selling ever more guns to people who already have more than enough. American lives aren’t worth a penny to them.
But they should be worth something to people like Burr and Tillis, more than even the NRA’s money.
It’s blood money, senators. How can you live with yourselves? What do you plan to say if the unthinkable happens here?