Not Far Enough

In May, in the space of two weeks, two shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas took thirty-one lives. Nineteen of the victims, in Texas, were school children.

The shootings led to expressions of outrage, words of compassion for the victims and their families and a mostly typical debate over what to do about gun violence in the United States, specifically; mass shootings.

Proponents of new gun laws that would restrict access to military style weapons asked how many children have to die, how many innocents have to die, before we do something about this obvious problem? The answer seems to be — at least a few dozen more.

After the Uvalde shooting, with its similarities to the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December of 2012(twenty children and six school employees killed) and coming as it did just two weeks after Buffalo, political leaders in Washington, D.C. were forced to respond to public opinion and take action.

Over several weeks, a group of senators from both major political parties worked together to assemble a package of new laws, related to stopping gun violence, that could win the necessary votes to pass in the Senate, where Republicans have recently used their fifty votes to block any legislation proposed by Democrats.

The negotiations were led by Senator Chris Murphy(D) of Connecticut and John Cornyn(R) of Texas. Murphy has been working for tighter gun laws since the shooting at Sandy Hook. Cornyn was pushed by events in Uvalde. After Senate passage, the House quickly gave its approval and the legislation was hailed by politicians and most in the news media as the most sweeping gun legislation passed in several decades.

Murphy, Cornyn and the other senators who worked — as they should on any issue — to reach a compromise should be commended, but as many of those same senators will freely admit, the legislation does not go far enough and almost completely ignores the basic issue at the center of America’s mass shooting problem: The availability of military grade weapons to the general public.

Let’s point out four obvious solutions that Congress, so far, lacks the courage to take on:

  • Raising the age to purchase military style weapons or any rifle to 21.
  • Limiting how much ammunition can be purchased for such weapons.
  • Banning military style weapons altogether.
  • Banning gun manufacturers with government contracts from selling military grade weapons, or their derivatives, to the general public.

These are the steps that need to be taken by lawmakers at the state and federal level and we — the potential victims of gun violence — should not rest until these goals are achieved.

Politicians respond to public pressure. They respond quickly when they think their own political future is at stake. The shooting in Uvalde shocked fifteen Republican senators to take action where previously, most of them, were not especially motivated on the issue. Most of them hope the general public will accept the recently passed gun legislation as the best we can hope for and move on, but they are living in a political fantasy world, because it is almost certain that we are weeks, or days away, from the next mass shooting and the inadequacy of “the most sweeping gun violence legislation in decades” will be tragically obvious to everyone.

To protect ourselves as Americans we must keep up the pressure on politicians from both parties. We cannot take a pause in our agitation for stricter gun laws — that’s what our elected leaders expect. We must continue to make clear that their careers are at stake until they take weapons designed for mass killing off the market, off the streets, out of the hands of people who buy these guns to act out their violent fantasies on school children and people shopping for groceries.

When we choose to engage in the political process, when we make clear that we the people are in charge, that we are paying attention and that we are prepared to use our right to vote to re-arrange the power structure, the powerful pay attention. When it comes to people in political office — there is no interest like self interest — and there is nothing that gets their attention more than an angry constituent headed toward a voting booth.

A major election is less than five months away. For over a year politicians and political observers have agreed that it is likely Republicans will take control of Congress. It’s conventional wisdom. The predictions are in line with the history of off-year elections in the United States. But recent events have the potential to fully up end conventional wisdom especially if the public chooses to engage.

With its continued support of former President Trump, its unwillingness to take steps to curb gun violence, and with the recent Supreme Court decision over-turning a woman’s right to reproductive freedom, the Republican Party has put itself squarely against the majority of the American public on three wedge issues.

Public opinion polls show most Americans favor reasonable gun control laws and that most Americans take as a matter of principle that women should have the right to make decisions about when to have children. As we head into campaign season, Republican candidates are taking the opposite view. They are largely refusing to enact stricter gun laws and they are celebrating the Supreme Court decision as something they have been working toward for fifty years.

At the same time, most Republicans can’t seem to break themselves away from the former president. The January 6th committee, is doing a very good job of making a case against Trump by describing his direct involvement in efforts to remain in office after he lost the 2020 election. The committee is doing such a thorough job that it is hard to see how Trump can escape criminal responsibility for his role in the events leading up to the January 6th riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The committee has redefined the issue when it comes to what constitutes a smoking gun. The testimony, derived mostly from Republican witnesses, clearly shows Trump’s intent was to remain in office and that he and his supporters were using multiple paths to achieve that goal. It is no longer necessary to prove that Trump directed or ordered the attack on the Capitol, because his larger crime is an attempted coup. The riot was simply a side effect of that more ambitious goal.

Republicans are on the wrong side of the most important issues facing the country today. It’s why I am no longer a Republican.

Put simply; if I were a candidate running for office in 2022 I would:

  • Be in favor of laws that make abortion rare, safe and legal.
  • Be in favor of common sense gun laws written to make mass casualty shootings(and all other gun crimes) less a feature of American life.
  • Be against anyone who has conspired against the United States by attempting to seize power after losing an election.
  • I would also not align myself with any political figure who has demonstrated an inability to deal in the facts and the truth.

These are winning positions from a campaign perspective. They reflect where most voters are.

It is important to remember however that as concerned citizens we have a responsibility to make our positions on the issues clear to candidates running for office. It is not enough to hope for the best. The system is designed to be responsive to the will of the people. Politicians act in the public interest when the public expresses itself clearly and in a way that threatens the position of those in power.

That is the power you have. Use it. Don’t stop. Don’t settle for less.

For more stories and photo essays visit www.ThisDecisiveMoment.com.

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Dean Pagani

Dean Pagani

Photojournalism for Brands and Ideas.