What is it going to take for President Donald Trump to recognize the need for reasonable gun control policies and to say the words and take the actions necessary for appropriate federal legislation to be enacted? And why is he having such difficulty serving as the “comforter in chief” when a mass killing tragedy shakes our nation?
The president had an opportunity to provide comfort, hope and leadership during his recent visits to El Paso and Dayton, sites of back-to-back mass shootings in which 31 people were killed. Not only didn’t he deliver, but his clumsy performance disappointed even many of his most ardent supporters.
Before his condolence trips, Trump raised expectations by saying he was “looking to do background checks.” Shortly thereafter, he dashed hopes by suggesting that expanded background check efforts be tied to immigration legislation. Later, he again raised hopes by calling on Americans to “condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” but then neutered his message by suggesting that mental illness and video games are the drivers of mass shootings, seeming to ignore the very hate and depravity he had just called out.
Here in Pittsburgh, especially after the Tree of Life shooting, we understand more than most how important such measures could be. But in recent weeks, other American communities have joined us in our anger and frustration as too many of our neighbors and friends are being killed by gun violence in every corner of our country. We are victims of a system that imposes too few conditions on the acquisition of killing machinery that has no purpose other than the taking of lives of others. The issue demands leadership and clear, direct talk. Instead, we get smoke and misdirection — and slave-like fealty to the agenda of the National Rifle Association and its uncompromising supporters and enablers.
This is not about the Second Amendment. We are not suggesting one cannot have a gun to protect his home and family, nor are we seeking to prohibit the hunting of animals. We are saying that no one should be enabled to hunt people, or to use guns to spread hate, fear and terror throughout our communities.
While some have laid the blame at the president’s feet, this is not actually fair — or historically accurate. The Columbine shooting happened during President Bill Clinton’s tenure; since then, there has been ample opportunity to take action on this issue — and little has been done. Even President Barack Obama, a hero of the Democratic Party, which strongly advocates gun control, was unable to enact legislation in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.
The Republican Party has obstructed all legislative efforts to curtail gun violence. That is not the fault of any one president, though the chief executive is charged with getting things accomplished by working across the aisle. Rather, it is the fault of many politicians over the course of many years – and it doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon. Earlier this year, in fact, the House passed a gun control bill that would require federal background checks for all firearms sales and transfers, including those online or at gun shows. Trump threatened a veto, but never got to do so because the Republican-controlled Senate refused to consider the bill.
Both parties need to do some real soul-searching on this issue and figure out a way to get things done. It is time for the Senate and the White House to act, and for the president to lead with compassion on this issue. The vast majority of Americans favor the banning of assault-style weapons and making sure those who possess guns are competent to use them. Let’s skip the programmed speeches and stop pretending that we don’t have a national crisis. Our leaders need to enact sensible controls on gun access, and sensible limitations on the kinds of guns that can be sold. Our lives depend on it. pjc