GOP House leader wants to talk about school shootings

“House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said legislation alone can’t prevent school shootings and that the U.S. must also have some kind of serious talk,” Huffington Post reported on Thursday, March 30, 2023, in the aftermath of a private Christian school massacre (read story here).

McCarthy suggested “that lawmaking alone can’t solve the problem of mass shootings,” Huffington Post said. He said, “I would say to the nation as a whole that the problem that we are today is not just going to be a legislation. We got to have a severe conversation here with this country. We’ve got to deal with mental illness.”

I agree with him, as far as it goes, but Republicans are trying to divert attention from America’s gun problem by focusing on America’s mental health problem. Our country has both a gun and mental health problem.

“House Democrats believe that weapons of war which are not used to hunt deer but are used to hunt human beings and slaughter innocent children do not belong in our communities,” Democratic House leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said. I agree with him, too. But McCarthy dodged reporters’ questions about whether the House is now willing to do something about assault weapons, which are frequently used in mass shootings (see story here).

To pretend that guns aren’t part of the problem is specious. And pretending Republican gun policies aren’t contributing to the problem is being in denial. Those policies include: Allowing civilians to own and carry weapons of war; opposing age restrictions on purchase and ownership of weapons; eliminating permits for concealed carry; supporting open carry; opposing background checks; opposing “red flag” laws that allow authorities to confiscate guns from domestic abusers and persons whose words or behavior indicate they’re a danger to society.

Republican gun policies are so repulsive, and their opposition to common-sense gun laws so entrenched — and, now, entrenched on the Supreme Court — that the only solution may be a general societal rejection of the Second Amendment that eventually leads to its amendment or repeal.

The basic problem is the ready access to guns by anybody and everybody. American society is saturated with guns. By some estimates, there are more guns than people in our country, although ownership is concentrated and most of the guns are owned by about 20% of the population. The types of guns in public hands also are a problem. The net result is that criminals, mentally ill people, and homicidal maniacs have no trouble getting their hands on weapons capable of slaughtering dozens of people in minutes.

It’s impossible to harden every potential target: Every school, church, synagogue, supermarket, bar, concert venue, parade, outdoor gathering. All of these have been targets of crazed gunmen who opened fire on strangers, motivated by mental disease, racial or religious hatred, or just mad at the world. It’s far easier and less expensive, although not easy, to keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them. But that requires regulating guns, which Republicans are unwilling to do. They’d rather trade our lives, and our children’s lives, for their gun freedom.

Let me emphasize there’s no panacea that will easily and quickly solve this problem. Gun control has its limits; it’s not possible to round up all the assault weapons, much less all the guns, in circulation. The horse is out of the barn on that. And there is a legitimate need for guns for self-defense, especially in rural areas where a police response might take an hour or more because of the distances from public services.

But this Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment is legitimately questionable, and society has evolved from the conditions existing when it was adopted. We’re not a population living on the fringes if wilderness anymore, fighting off hostile natives. And the authors of the amendment never envisioned rapid-fire assault weapons.

If the court’s “originalists” who insist on applying the Constitution as its authors saw it were consistent, they would hold that the Second Amendment guaranteed states could have organized militias, and the firearms protected by the amendment do not extend beyond muzzle-loading, smooth-bore, flintlock muskets. The actual interpretation they’ve put on it is driven by contemporary politics and ideology, not historical precedent.

Freed of restraints by a twisted interpretation of the Second Amendment, a rational gun policy would be that owning, possessing, and using firearms is a privilege, which government can license and impose reasonable regulations on — just like driving a car, or practicing most professions (including cutting hair).

If we can’t get a more reasonable interpretation of the Second Amendment from the Supreme Court, because of the radical gun views its conservative justices, then maybe the solution is to either take away the court’s jurisdiction over gun laws (which Congress could do), or get rid of the amendment. Because this much is clear: While there is no sure-fire solution to mass shootings, or simple way to protect schoolchildren, doing something about guns has to be part of any solution, or there isn’t going to be a solution.

Photos: Arming kids isn’t the solution; arming teachers isn’t much better

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