Dec 20th, 2017, 01:34 PM

The Numbing Debate About Guns

By Ian Katzman
Image credit: Shutterstock
Cynical politicians have failed to address the public safety threat of firearms in America.

Every three or four months, a new and terrible shooting takes place somewhere in America. In the aftermath of the shooting, media commentators, politicians, and lobbyists go through the same familiar motions.

Liberals call for limited firearm regulation, usually focusing on smaller, less controversial regulatory fixes that might be politically palatable to as wide a swath of Americans as possible. Most commonly, expanded background checks, assault weapon bans, the banning of private, undocumented firearm sales. Proposals for these modest reforms are met by conservative politicians and media with faux-outrage at attempts to, as they put it, “politicize” the tragedy with calls for firearm regulation. When pressed to provide a proposal to address the ever increasing number of dead resulting from these increasingly frequent events, Republican policy makers suggest improved mental health care and better security.


Image credit: Shutterstock

The standard Republican response is infuriating for two reasons. 

First, the suggestion that by proposing even modest reform to firearm regulation, liberals are dishonoring the victims by “politicizing” a tragedy. That Democrats are merely using the deaths to push legislation that, rather than addressing a significant and increasingly deadly public safety issue, will in some way provide them some sort of political benefit. The implication being that those who suggest such a thing are acting purely out of self-interest.

The second, equally cynical and enraging aspect of the conservative response, is their obvious disinterest in pursuing the solutions which they argue publicly are necessary to reduce the frequency of mass-shootings. Republican calls for better mental health care fall silent as soon as they’re off-camera. No republican in Congress has proposed any legislation to provide funding for mental health services for struggling and potentially violent people. Instead, they are set to cut public health care in the upcoming Tax Reform bill. They have not suggested any legislation that would subsidize security operations for potential targets or provide better training for local law enforcement to tackle the issue.

If Republicans had a genuine disagreement with Democrats as to how to reduce gun violence, they would presumably pursue their own solution. Instead they have used the procedural power that they acquired in the 2016 election to stall all legislation relating to the issue. Even a ban on Bump Stocks (the Mandalay Bay shooters accessory which allowed for fully automatic fire), which has received support from the National Rifle Association, has languished in congress even after they were used by the Mandalay Bay shooter to increase the damage that could be done. Instead of addressing the issue through any sort of legislation of policy recommendation to bureaucracies responsible for regulation, they stall.


Image credit: Shutterstock/ Joseph Sohm

It has been barely three months from the most deadly mass shooting in the history of the United States at the Mandalay Bay Hotel. Which itself eclipsed the Orlando shooting of 2016 as the most deadly shooting in United States history. These stories are quickly put out of the minds of most people, in large part because of the extraordinary pace of our news consumption. Statistics have a numbing quality. People settled back into an uncomfortable routine in the aftermath of mass shootings

The ability of Republicans to be able to successfully stall for time is aided by the fast-paced nature of societies news consumption in the modern era. The Mandalay Bay coverage was front page news for about week. Compared that to the Columbine shooting, which had a far smaller death toll and was the front page headline for several months. This is indicative of a society which has simply grown familiar with constant shooting events. Politicians understand that if they can ride out the immediate news coverage in the wake of a shooting, they can avoid being forced to act in response.

The public pressure disappears relatively quickly, and the horror of the event leaves peoples minds in short order. While congressmen have shown an unwillingness to act in response to this imminent public safety crisis, there are also many Americans who are hostile to any sort of increased firearm regulation. This does not bode well for the future. Unless there is a significant change in public opinion, or some sort of event that is shocking enough to pierce the widespread public malaise in regard to the issue, these increasingly deadly shootings will remain a regular fixture of the news cycle.