Congress to Blame for Another Massacre

Testimony during an Illinois hearing on assault weapons

Testimony during an Illinois hearing on assault weapons

A SWAT coordinator and Deputy Superintendent for the Chicago Police Department testify during a hearing on assault weapons at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield Illinois, February 2013.
Photo: Seth Pearlman (AP)

We’ve heard it all too many times before. A mentally disturbed loner buys an assault rifle, opens fire in a school, church, or nightclub, and kills dozens of people. The media interviews neighbors, fellow students or co-workers who suddenly recall incidents of sick, dangerous things the shooter did which they didn’t report. The FBI, local authorities, and mental health professionals never shared information that could have prevented the mass murders. Former cops and agents go on TV to tell us that the shooter fell through the cracks. Family members of victims plead for a ban on assault weapons. And, politicians go before the cameras to express their condolences, blaming mental illness, not guns for the tragedy. They say now’s not the time to discuss reforms, then a few days later they forget the massacre and move on to really important matters, like deporting children and criminalizing marijuana, and pain pills. Well, we heard it all again last week when 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, calmly assembled and loaded his AR15 assault rifle, then proceeded to kill 17 people and wound 14 others.

Cruz had once attended Douglas High where he was constantly getting into trouble, and eventually expelled for picking a fight with his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. He was known to be obsessed with guns, sold knives out of a lunch box, and posted photos and instagrams that showcased his deadly arsenal, and his promise to use it against students.

Leading up to the massacre, Cruz had been in and out of counseling (mainly out) and was the subject of at least thirty 911 calls to his home. He identified with white supremacist groups, wore a “Make America Great Again” cap, and said that he wanted to shoot some people after seeing a Trump supporter hassled at a campaign rally last year. And when a responsible citizen notified the FBI of Cruz’s social media boast to “become a professional school shooter”, the agency first said they couldn’t locate the boy, and later admitted they didn’t follow protocol in trying to apprehend him.

Last Wednesday marked the 8th school massacre since the start of the year, and while bodies continue to pile up, Congress sits on its backside, and refuses to pass significant gun reforms, including restoring a previous ban on assault weapons that stood for ten years until the Bush Congress repealed it in 2004.

Before he was a candidate, Donald Trump advocated for a ban on assault rifles, but during his campaign and since taking office, he’s been against any restrictions on gun ownership. Speaker Paul Ryan won’t even allow a gun reform bill to reach the floor of the House. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s Republican Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis advocate for gun rights instead of victims’ rights, and last year even voted to keep the names of mental health patients off of the national criminal background check data base. So what’s the reason for their refusal to ban assault rifles and large ammo clips? Money. The NRA spent $30 million dollars to get Trump elected, and gave Ryan nearly $400,000 to keep his seat. Meanwhile, the NRA gave Tillis $4.4 million dollars, and Burr $7 million dollars.

Are shooters like Cruz crazy? Yes. Do law enforcement agencies screw up and fail to share red flag information? Yes. Do students, teachers, and neighbors often stay silent until it’s too late? Yes. Was Cruz the one who actually depressed the trigger and opened fire on his former classmates? Yes. But Congress deserves the lion’s share of the blame for the Parkland massacre, and the Orlando massacre, and the Vegas massacre, and the Charleston massacre, and the Aurora massacre, and the Sandy Hook massacre, because they refuse to ban assault rifles, and they refuse because they’re in the NRA’s pocket.

Last week, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut told his colleagues, “This epidemic of mass slaughter only happens here in America, not because of coincidence, not because of bad luck, but as a consequence of our inaction. We [Congress] are responsible for a level of mass atrocity that happens in this country with zero parallel anywhere else.”

Lissette Rozenblat, the mother of a Parkland survivor was even more passionate, telling CNN, “If we don’t do something now to take action, this is going to keep happening. Whether it’s mental health or terrorism, there are guns out there, automatic weapons that should not be in the hands of civilians, and that’s what it comes down to. Greed, money, NRA, politicians who are taking money from the NRA, and at the end of the day, we just want to keep our kids safe. As parents that is our ultimate goal, and sending them to school should not be like sending them into a war zone.”

This November we should remember Ms. Rozenblat’s plea when we go to the polls to elect our Congressperson. We should let those who seek our vote know that nearly 70% of all Americans want a ban on assault rifles. And we should reject the argument made by NRA-backed Congressmen who say the most important thing is to protect the 2nd Amendment, our right to bear arms. We should remind them that when the 2nd Amendment was written, a man with a musket was lucky if he got off two shots per minute, and that today, kids like Nikolas Cruz can get off 500 rounds in half that time. The Founding Fathers could not have anticipated the kind of weaponry that exists today, nor would they have stood for citizens being massacred. Neither should we.


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