Mass murders are occurring with astonishing regularity in our country, threatening to overwhelm us and numb us to the horror. To maintain our very sanity, we must look for lessons in the carnage, so that we can seek the changes that can keep us safer.
Two mass murders last weekend in Texas and Ohio — within 13 hours of each other — can give us valuable insight. And the short interval between the two slaughters shows that we have no time to waste.
Words matter. President Donald Trump began his campaign four years ago by calling Mexican immigrants in the U.S. illegally “rapists and murderers.” He has repeatedly denounced and tried to dehumanize Hispanic immigrants, calling them invaders.
When Trump asked rhetorically at a recent campaign rally in Florida what should be done with such immigrants, one man shouted: “Shoot them.” Instead of denouncing such words, Trump responded with a joke.
Is it any surprise that the manifesto written by the El Paso killer echoed the themes of an invasion that the president has so often repeated? The president cannot have been proud to see his ideas used to justify mass murder.
On Monday, Trump said “our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacism.” That is absolutely correct. Trump must remember that as long as he is president, the national conversation begins with him personally. He is the one who must directly condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacism.
In one example of an institution recognizing the power of words, the Naval Academy football team this week dropped its 2019 season motto, “Load the Clip,” after objections were raised by people in Annapolis. Just one year ago, a gunman shot five people to death at the Capital Gazette newspaper, only a few miles from Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“We understand that it probably wasn’t appropriate considering the current climate and certain things that are happening in our society,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. Good for him and good for Navy.
The police matter. Armed, well-trained police officers in Dayton stopped that attack within one minute, by killing the gunman. Their quick thinking, quick action and extreme bravery were inspiring. It also showed that gunfights are best conducted by professionals.
Gun rights advocates frequently assert that if more ordinary citizens carried guns, everyone would be safer because criminals would be reluctant to shoot. El Paso showed that is a false argument.
An estimated 1,000 to 3,000 people were in the Walmart when the shooting started. It is safe to assume that, at any Texas Walmart, a number of customers would be armed. At least one man was. Army Pfc. Glendon Oakley Jr. dragged children to safety after pulling out his gun, but he never fired a shot. Thankfully, no one did, because dozens more could have been killed in the crossfire. Just because residents can carry guns doesn’t mean they are trained to stop an active shooter.
Guns matter. In both attacks, the gunmen used military-style assault weapons, machines that are designed for the sole purpose of killing other human beings. They are ruthlessly efficient.
One fact alone is astonishing: The Dayton gunman killed nine people and wounded 26 others in less than a minute, perhaps as little as 30 seconds. Had he been firing a pistol, he never could have inflicted so much damage so quickly.
That is the single strongest argument ever made for banning assault rifles at the federal level.
Reasonable gun owners know this is true. The U.S. Constitution enumerates fundamental rights, but none of them are absolute. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press and even freedom of religion are all limited to some degree. You can’t, for instance, yell “fire!” in a crowded theater, unless, of course, there’s actually a fire.
We can limit the right to bear arms in the name of safety. Background checks, red flag laws allowing judges to remove weapons from dangerous individuals, and a ban on assault weapons would all be reasonable restrictions.
Republicans need to act. If the GOP wants to be part of the conversation, it must throw off the shackles of the National Rifle Association and the minority of gun owners who insist on no compromise.
Some Republicans know this. The governor of Ohio, in the wake of the Dayton shooting, has come out in favor of a red flag law for Ohio. Some Senate Republicans have offered support for a bipartisan bill to encourage states to adopt red flag laws. Other Republicans recognize that they need to get on the right side of this issue. Large majorities of Americans want reasonable gun control.
If Republican lawmakers cannot summon the courage to act, they will leave it to a future Democratic president with a majority in Congress, and the result is likely to be even more radical changes. The GOP needs to act now before the pendulum swings too far and they’re left out.