‘One Problem Is You, Dear Reader’: 3 Reasons Why Nothing Will Change After Las Vegas

As you read the following Op-Ed, don’t forget about this chart:



By Steve Israel for The New York Times

In the wake of one the deadliest mass shootings in our nation’s history, perhaps the most asked question by Americans is, “Will anything change?” The simple answer is no. The more vital question is, “Why not?”

Congress is already doing what it sees as its part. Flags have been lowered, thoughts and prayers tweeted, and sometime this week it will perform the latest episode in the longest-running drama on C-Span: the moment of silence. It’s how they responded to other mass shootings in Columbine, Herkimer, Tucson, Santa Monica, Hialeah, Terrell, Alturas, Killeen, Isla Vista, Marysville, Chapel Hill, Tyrone, Waco, Charleston, Chattanooga, Lafayette, Roanoke, Roseburg, Colorado Springs, San Bernardino, Birmingham, Fort Hood and Aurora, at Virginia Tech, the Washington Navy Yard, and the congressional baseball game practice, to name too many.

In my 16 years in Congress, Mother Jones magazine counted 52 mass killings. Fewer lessons about Congress were starker than the ones I learned about why, after each one, nothing happened. The first lesson was in January 2001, shortly after I was sworn in. I wanted to introduce legislation to require safety locks on certain guns and sought the support of a fellow freshman, a Democrat from Arkansas.

“I can’t do that,” he said. “In my district, we close schools on the first day of hunting season.” I kidded him that in my suburban district, we close school when there was a big sale at the mall. That’s when I learned that all politics is local, and on the issue of guns, it’s hard to build a political bridge from Huntington, N.Y., to Huntington, Ark.

There were moments when I thought, “Finally, we will do something.” I remember sitting at my desk in my district office on Long Island watching the grisly images of the murder of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., in 2012, and President Barack Obama with tears streaming down his cheeks. I was confident that at the very least we’d expand background checks or make it harder for people with mental illness to obtain guns.

My confidence ebbed when I heard my colleagues turn this into a debate over the rights of gun owners instead of the right to life of children. In the confines of the members-only elevators, where my colleagues could speak honestly, I heard colleagues confide that any vote for gun safety would lower their N.R.A. scores, making them casualties in the next election.

“Finally, we will do something,” I thought after the June 2016 mass shooting in an Orlando, Fla., nightclub. I was in a leadership meeting with Nancy Pelosi when we heard that several colleagues had taken to the floor and started a sit-in to force the House to address gun violence. I was stunned to see dozens of my colleagues sitting and chanting, just before we were about to take a long recess, “No bill, no break.”

We held the floor for 24 hours. Thousands converged spontaneously on Capitol Hill in support. This was a moment I thought we could no longer be ignored. I was right. Congress did act. It declared that fines would be slapped on House members who broadcast audio or video from the House floor. Thank God the decorum of the House was safe, at least.

Then there were the annual rituals in the House Appropriations Committee. Democrats would offer amendments to prevent people on the terrorist watch list from purchasing firearms. A no-brainer, I thought. If you’re too dangerous to board a plane, you’re too dangerous to buy an assault weapon, a common-sense position shared by over 80 percent of Americans.

I remember the Republican chairman of the committee rising in opposition to the amendment, arguing that in America, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. I’m not sure he ever extended that argument to other populations, but it didn’t matter. The amendment failed.

So did our attempts to rescind the infamous Dickey Amendment, which prevents the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from even researching the relationship between gun violence and public health. The Dickey Amendment was so absurd that it was ultimately opposed by its own sponsor, Jay Dickey, an Arkansas Republican. Still, we failed. The result? The government can’t study gun violence but is spending $400,000 analyzing the effects of Swedish massages on rabbits. So at least the rabbits feel safe.

And finally, there are those moments when members ourselves became victims. Gabby Giffords in Tucson; Steve Scalise at the congressional baseball game. Even the proximity of bullets resulted in shock and inaction.

Why? Three reasons.

First, just like everything else in Washington, the gun lobby has become more polarized. The National Rifle Association, once a supporter of sensible gun-safety measures, is now forced to oppose them because of competing organizations. More moderation means less market share. The gun lobby is in a race to see who can become more brazen, more extreme.

Second, congressional redistricting has pulled Republicans so far to the right that anything less than total subservience to the gun lobby is viewed as supporting gun confiscation. The gun lobby score is a litmus test with zero margin for error.

Third, the problem is you, the reader. You’ve become inoculated. You’ll read this essay and others like it, and turn the page or click another link. You’ll watch or listen to the news and shake your head, then flip to another channel or another app. This horrific event will recede into our collective memory.

That’s what the gun lobbyists are counting on. They want you to forget. To accept the deaths of at least 58 children, parents, brothers, sisters, friends as the new normal. To turn this page with one hand, and use the other hand to vote for members of Congress who will rise in another moment of silence this week. And next week. And the foreseeable future.

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5 thoughts on “‘One Problem Is You, Dear Reader’: 3 Reasons Why Nothing Will Change After Las Vegas

  1. You summarised the facts. Let us wait for the next killing. New legislation on hold due to shooting. Weapons to be allowed to be carried cross border, and silencers to be sold to the public. Will be re introduced when the news fades. I am sure the NRA will shed a few public crocodile tears.

  2. All too true. Our moment to be true to our citizens has come and passed. I personally think a president who tells us he could shoot someone and nothing would happen to him says it all. The glamour of “heroes and heroine” in our movies, video games, propaganda, military plus 300 million guns in our country, bought and paid for lawmakers leave us with the knowledge that the next record slaying will be tomorrow or the next day. This is pathetic. We are all “sitting ducks” in a country gone mad.

    Folks $$$ in our political system is the real evil and keeps us from even a discussion, yes just a fu*king discussion on anything that matters (guns, climate, taxes, population, religion, voter suppression, healthcare, race, wages, education, renewable energy, etc). The division is one sided and the “haves” keep telling their paid for congress (both sides in some cases) how unfair The United States of America has been to them. Our cheap $$$, our roads, our airports, our canals, our bridges, our parking lots, our energy, our good will is not enough, they want your soul, your dignity, your last few pennies.

    So if you are looking for any help or discussion about our safety as a nation it is not going to happen because we are the fodder in this war on US.

  3. Would be nice if the leftists would get this mad over the dozens of shootings occurring each week in Chicago or the hundreds occurring in our inner-cities. But they won’t because it doesn’t fit their agenda.

    Chicago is the most gun-controlled city in the United States and it’s worse than a Somalian war zone. Any proactive policing is branded as “racist” and black-on-black murder — consisting of approximately 90% of the killings — continues to be totally out of control.

    Taking away guns from law-abiding citizens doesn’t work and has never worked, and wouldn’t have prevented Las Vegas.

    They’re called criminals for a reason — because they don’t follow the law.

    1. Don’t blame out of control gangsters in Chicago on who you are calling “leftists” — trust me “leftists” are as disgusted and angry about that crime wave also! If it is not on national news, it does not get nationwide coverage.

      And the ‘law-abiding citizen” who secretly had at least 45 guns, semi-automatics and automatics included with thousands of rounds of ammo, who hid out for a few days contemplating his act of mass murder – the largest in the history of United States! – IF HE DID NOT HAVE ANY GUNS he would not have murdered 59 people and 500 more with various levels of wounds! It would most certainly have prevented the mass murder. Mental illness and anger is a dangerous combination.

      Gun Laws must be changed. It would also help in Chicago.

      If political contributions from NRA were prohibited, changing gun laws would be easy!

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