Every time there’s another mass shooting in the United States, the same patterns emerge. It’s a sad statement, but we all know the beat-by-beat rhythm by now, as if we’ve seen the same horrendous movie on endless loop. As we power through the familiar horror show, it begins with thoughts and prayers (fine) and ends with complete inaction by legislators (not fine) who are powerless or completely unwilling to exercise common sense by applying new regulations to firearms and firearm owners.
In the end, exactly nothing is done, with many reasonable solutions left to die on the vine. Despite the graphic carnage -- including incidents when members of Congress from both parties have been among the victims -- most legislators possess neither the courage nor the will to break the pattern of blinding stupidity when it comes to policing who can own guns, what guns are available for retail and how many such weapons would-be shooters are permitted to stockpile.
The shooter in Las Vegas, whose name I can’t bring myself to type, carried with him to his room in the Mandalay Bay Resort a small arsenal of weapons, as many as 34 guns according to current reports. Again, it’s a predictably similar pattern seen everywhere from Sandy Hook to Alexandria. The weapons he harnessed to murder at least 58 people, while injuring hundreds more, apparently included an automatic rifle, capable of spraying bullets with a single squeeze of the trigger.
The staccato bursts of automatic gunfire in the videos emerging from Nevada should be seared into our national soul today. We don’t yet know which specific weapons were used, but in these disasters, gunmen have typically been armed with (among other things) AR-15 rifles, which are literally the most popular firearm in America and were used most prominently in the heart-wrenching carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Rather than making sure madmen like the Las Vegas shooter have a more difficult time acquiring arsenals of the world’s deadliest rifles -- armaments better suited for an infantry platoon in Iraq or Afghanistan -- we become ensnared in a debate featuring some of the most ridiculous arguments to hit the political stage, short of random blurts by Donald Trump or Sarah Palin. The point is to scramble the debate over gun control, tangling it within the semantic weeds until frustration or the next major news cycle shuts it all down. Here's some of what we are already hearing, with more to come
One of the oft-recycled arguments, despite being one of the dumbest possible excuses for firearms proliferation, is that cars kill people, too. Should we also ban certain makes and models? The truth is that cars and drivers are heavily regulated by the government, from emissions standards to annual inspections to safety features. Every driver must carry insurance to compensate anyone you might injure in an accident. You can't legally drive a car that doesn't feature seat belts, nor can you drive a car that spews too much exhaust into the air. You have to take both a written test and a driving test to get a license to operate a car. You have to renew that license at regular intervals and, if you're older, you have to prove that you're physically and mentally capable of driving a car. You may face serious legal consequences if you drive after drinking alcohol or while impaired by other chemicals.
There are thousands of police officers patrolling our roads and, as most of us have experienced at one time or another, they will penalize you or arrest you for both major and minor infractions. There are literally hundreds of laws drivers must observe, and violators face penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment to the government stripping you of your right to drive at all. So, if gun rights supporters want to continue comparing firearms to automobiles, then let's talk about regulating guns and gun owners the same way we regulate cars and drivers. If not, cut the crap. It’s not helping, but maybe that’s the point.
Moving the goalposts
If it’s not a wafer-thin argument like “cars kill people, too,” then it’s constantly shifting the policy goalposts around, shielding Republican lawmakers and the gun lobby from enacting regulations they previously supported (or at least claimed to). For example, after the Sandy Hook massacre, Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the National Rifle Association, told supporters that a national database of mentally ill people might’ve prevented the shooting at the elementary school. LaPierre demanded, “How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame from a national media machine that rewards them with wall-to-wall attention and a sense of identity that they crave, while provoking others to try to make their mark?” He continued: “A dozen more killers, a hundred more? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?”
In the days following the Washington Navy Yard shooting less than a year later, LaPierre appeared on "Meet the Press" and pronounced, “We have a mental health system in this country that has completely and totally collapsed. We have no national database of these lunatics.”
Yet when President Obama signed an executive order enhancing the mental health database, per the National Instant Criminal Background Check Improvement Amendments Act of 2007, the NRA came out against the so-called “Obama rule.” Later, in February of this year, President Donald Trump signed into law a bill that overturned the rule. In other words, the gun lobby and the Republican Party talk a big game when it comes to mental health and gun massacres, but when it comes to actually supplementing the mental health database, they suddenly believe it's an unacceptable restriction on American freedom. More contradictions and whiplash from a faction whose core values have been replaced by a simple desire to troll the opposition.
Guns as prizes
Speaking of trolls, gun culture in America has gone from a sacred family bond in which fathers hand down heirlooms to their sons -- carrying on hunting and shooting traditions from ages past -- to wacky contests in which these deadly retail products are the prize. Since the massacre at Sandy Hook in December 2012, gun clubs, firearms retailers, gun rights organizations and even a then-sitting U.S. congressman have all held multiple contests in which the AR-15, Adam Lanza's weapon of choice, was the prize. A prize!
In fact, former Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, a small time proto-Trump character who, by the way, was indicted on 28 counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering charges, conducted two AR-15 giveaways while serving in Congress. Not only did Stockman deliberately choose the AR-15 due to its high profile during the post-Sandy Hook gun control debate, but he chose the exact same AR-15 manufacturer as the Lanza weapon: Bushmaster.
The ghoulishness is breathtaking, especially given the sheer number of other available firearms that have little or no association with the most gruesome day on American soil (at least, the most gruesome after 9/11 and before Las Vegas), not to mention the numerous other manufacturers of the AR-15. But Stockman chose that one. Worse yet, roughly 100,000 people entered his contest. On the day of the second of two drawings, Stockman said, “An AR-15 muzzle flash is the new torch of liberty.” An AR-15 muzzle flash was also the last thing 20 children and six school teachers would ever see. But sure, torch of liberty. You bet.
While we’re talking about the AR-15, back in September 2013, not even a year after Sandy Hook, another gun-maker, Slide Fire, released a modified AR-15 that can reportedly act as a fully automatic rifle using belt-fed rounds. A loophole in the law makes it perfectly legal. The company's marketing manager said, “It sprays like a fire hose.”
That's convenient. And what would you use such a weapon for, exactly?
Putting Las Vegas into perspective, conservative intelligence analyst John Schindler reminded us that the casualty count in Las Vegas now exceeds the American military casualties in the second assault on Fallujah in November 2004, during the Iraq War. That body count was the work of one man, 10 firearms and the tacit backing of the gun lobby and the entire Republican Party, which has stuck to its defiant rhetoric in support of deranged men having access to as many firearms as they choose. They’ll continue to do so as long as the gun lobby and the NRA are legally permitted to inject unlimited sums of cash into the system, blackmailing lawmakers by threatening primary challenges from the right if they dare to promote common sense. Within that vise grip, we get gibberish arguments and constantly moving goalposts instead of reasonable reforms -- or any at all.
When does it end? When do we return to decency and common sense in the name of defending ourselves from increasingly commonplace massacres? Until the debate is engaged on sensible terms and until money is stripped from politics, it’s not looking good. But there’s a midterm election around the corner, and, if nothing else, we shouldn’t forget what happened in Las Vegas. Nor should we forget the so-called political leaders who, under duress from lobbyists for those who market instruments of death, have been too cowardly to act.