If there were other stories on my mind for this day—and there were—the mass killing of 10 humans in Boulder, Colorado, on Monday demanded all my attention. It’s not only the horror of these murders by high-powered assault rifle, but also that awful feeling when you know something is profoundly wrong and yet the people in power behave as if there’s nothing that can be done about it.
I’ve been carrying that terrible sense of frustration throughout the last year of the pandemic. We could all see that action needed to be taken to confront COVID, but the people in power were refusing to do anything that would save lives, and, worse, their responses were leading to more lives lost. That’s one of the reasons the arrival of Joe Biden and an administration committed to governance and saving lives—revealed through an actual strategy and plan to vaccinate the country—has been such a relief.
The desire to do something about gun violence is not a partisan wedge issue. It’s supported by a massive percentage of the population—some 70 percent support an assault weapons ban, over 90 percent support background checks on gun sales—even if those screaming the right to bear AR-15s is an inalienable matter of freedom. (What percentage of that group are also screaming that they will not wear a mask?)
Most people know action should be taken to stem the continuing flood of mass killings. Most know steps must be taken to reduce the terror of mass shootings—to lessen that sick feeling that it can happen in your kid’s middle school or the movie theater or even while you’re picking up eggs and ice cream at the grocery store.
After a year of rising death counts as a result of COVID—a year of nauseating morbidity—I have felt (and, yes, hoped) that we might be at a point when even a sufficient number of politicians could stand up and say enough really is enough. Yet my terrible, awful, no good worry is that even now, even with a new administration and a president who yearns for change, we still haven’t learned enough to fix what so obviously needs fixing. That’s not just wrong, it drives me more than a little bit crazy.
Consider a small snapshot of my Twitter feed from Monday, March 22, as this latest tragedy was demanding attention.
One reply to this came from a pastor who said that he had been dreading that the mass shootings would start up again after a year defined by lockdown, quarantine and social distancing. I could not help but agree with him.
I’m not prepared to think we are in the same place that we were before the COVID catastrophe. I’m not prepared to accept the latest round of thoughts and prayers and decent people insisting that this cannot continue—and yet on and on it goes. My wife reasonably worried that if the death of 20 elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut, was not enough to spur an end to the madness, maybe nothing will be. But this problem is not a law of nature; it’s a human-made problem with human-made solutions available.
Of course, we are still stuck with the gun nuts and the extremists who will exploit fear and sacrifice human life to narcissistically grab attention. It’s easy to let the worst among us define our belief that the conflict really is intractable. I won’t say that we are better than this—this attraction to gun violence has been with us assuredly as long as we’ve had a nation—but I will say that this extremism fueling gun violence is a minority that can be beaten.
How did this day happen? The National Rifle Association has been struggling financially, but the particular horror of the Boulder massacre is that the NRA succeeded in getting a judge to lift the city’s ban on AR-15s just six days before. The perpetrator may have acquired another weapon to carry out his sick deed, but maybe, just maybe, not.
Which leaves us with the statement of President Biden.
Here’s what Biden said out loud: “I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common-sense steps that will save lives in the future and to urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act.”
Congress and specifically the Senate need to act, with or without the filibuster. If the Senate is too broken to act, then the President must find another way to serve the will of the people and help stem this heartbreaking scourge.
The savagery needs to be replaced by sanity.