Since 31 people were killed in one weekend in El Paso and Dayton only a few weeks ago, more than two dozen individuals have been arrested over threats to commit mass shootings. Whether it’s emboldened white supremacists, easy access to weapons of war, or the combination of the two, we all wait for the next shoe to drop. Will it be one of the schools my kids attend? My workplace? The favorite office lunch spot down the street? As massacres and threats mount each week it becomes easier to point the finger at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). As Senate Majority Leader, McConnell wields enormous power, determining the Senate’s agenda and timing of bill consideration — as well as ensuring that some measures never see the light of day.
While in the United States we like to honor heroism, we also accept that jumping in front of a loaded weapon is not always an easy — or good — choice to make. But what is not acceptable is the abstention of McConnell, who, as he stands side by side with the National Rifle Association, takes no risks, displays no heroism, and actively shirks his responsibilities to the people he is sworn to represent.
In the meantime, gun violence and mass shootings are destroying families, communities, and the fabric of our nation. Crowds of people can be murdered — and are — within seconds at the hands of someone with a semi-automatic weapon and a high capacity magazine. Those who are shot but survive long enough to get to a hospital often suffer devastating injuries caused by ammunition designed not just to penetrate flesh, but to destroy organs and shatter bones.
“We’re surgeons, we’re not gods,” Dr. Nicholas Namias, the director of Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, told the Tribune News Service. The center treats about 400 serious gunshot injuries every year. “If you have an injury from a bullet going through an artery at a low velocity, you repair it and go on your way,” reported Dr. Nahmias. “If you have a high velocity bullet, now you have a huge cavity. Imagine a cavity the size of your fist where everything that should have been there no longer is. How do you fix that?”
These guns are weapons of war, according to Rep. Ruben Gallego, (D-AZ), an Iraq War veteran trained on the M-16 assault rifle, the equivalent of the AR-15. “In boot camp I was taught this was by design. The military wanted us to shoot somebody and cause so much internal bleeding that it would cost extensive resources from the enemy to keep someone alive. In the hands of civilians used in crowded areas, that’s how you get in four minutes 17 people killed.”
While schoolchildren practice lockdown drills and people fear attending concerts and nightclubs, shopping in malls, and browsing at farmers’ markets, the Republican-led Senate looks the other way. But the House of Representatives finally took action in February, passing the Bipartisan Background Checks Act (HR 8), establishing universal background checks on all gun sales, and the Enhanced Background Checks Act (HR 1112), providing additional time to allow a background check to be completed before a firearm sale. In April, 400 National Council of Jewish Women activists met with their senators on Capitol Hill in support of S 42, the Background Check Expansion Act — a “clean” version of HR 8 offered by Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT).
Passage of both HR 8 and HR 1112 mark the first time the House has acted on gun violence prevention legislation in more than two decades. In fact, the House is returning early from its August recess to consider additional measures: one to restrict the sale and importation of large capacity ammunition magazines such as those used in several mass shootings, and the other aimed at preventing gun ownership by those convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes and against those who have a protection order issued against them. Later in September, the House Judiciary Committee is expected to consider an assault weapons ban.
The Senate must step up to its legislative responsibilities. It must become part of the gun safety movement, and in turn pressure the president to do the right thing. If Wayne LaPierre, president of the National Rifle Association, can get President Trump to do his bidding with a single phone call, surely Mitch McConnell can give it a try by passing bills that would force the president’s hand.
Would this legislation fix everything? Of course not. It’s going to take more than enacting stronger laws. But, it’s where we must start — and we know they work: states that have passed similar measures considered by, or soon to be considered by, the House experience lower rates of firearm homicide, firearm suicide, and firearm trafficking. Those who complain it’s pointless because it is not perfect offer no alternative. Their complaints of imperfection are just intended to keep us from doing anything at all. Yet, the majority of this country, across all political affiliations, support making change. So, why not start with where the country is — hungry for the Senate to take action on the House-passed measures and more so the president has something to sign into law. Ongoing Senate inertia means that by the time you read this we could be experiencing another nightmare due to firearms. Hear this Senator McConnell: inaction becomes complicity.