We won’t have meaningful action to address mass gun violence until Democrats and Republicans in Congress and the rest of us find the gumption to move past ideological tropes and onto sober, pragmatic discussion about what those actions might actually be.
So far, there’s been only a little to offer hope that might happen.
The bills House Democrats and a few Republicans passed this week call for some common-sense steps that might do some fractional good, but don’t get to the core of the problem.
They also proposed some political hokum, such as banning the sale of magazines able to hold more than 15 bullets.
The flaws in that provision are obvious and numerous. For one thing, have we set the acceptable level of murder at 15?
Are lawmakers unaware those box-type magazines were developed so a rifle can be quickly reloaded, and that it’s possible to carry more than one of them?
The truth is, neither the number of bullets nor any other practical fact matters because that provision wasn’t meant to achieve any practical good.
It’s a political bone to a base that includes a lot of people who want to ban something related to firearms and some who want to ban everything.
But there’s no reason to believe any incremental ban on magazines or weapons would achieve any measurable improvement of this appalling state of affairs.
The demon machine du jour after the slaughter in Uvalde is AR-15 rifles. Just ban those and everything will be OK, the argument goes.
But you don’t have to be a member of the gun cult or be bought by the NRA to see the problems in that thinking.
Dimitrios Pagourtzis is charged with using a pump shotgun and a .38-caliber revolver to commit one of the deadliest acts of school violence in Texas history; 10 killed, 13 wounded.
Seung-Hui Cho used a handgun to kill 32 people on the campus of Virginia Tech University in 2007.
The list could go on and on, unfortunately.
Salvador Ramos used an AR-15 in Uvalde, but had more than an hour to run amok among children and their teachers. He had plenty of time to wreak the same carnage with just about anything.
It’s delusional to believe a ban on a specific type of weapon or accessories would have prevented or even mitigated the devastation.
It’s just not going to be that easy, no matter how ardently we might all wish it were.
The argument that the mere presence, number or proximity of firearms produces mass murderers, like plutonium might produce tumors, is false.
The evolution of the firearm in this country from tool to fetish, however, is part of the problem.
The political right has abetted the rise of that cult by elevating guns to the near sacred; by putting gun rights well above all other rights; and by promoting nonsensical policies such as “constitutional carry” that encourage people to be heavily armed but to remain perfectly ignorant about the responsibilities inherent in bearing arms.
No firearm of any design has ever transformed a person into the kind of killer who can look down the barrel at a child and pull the trigger.
But the glorification of guns, their ascension to power totems, very well might incite and amplify the toxic impulses that drive a person to begin thinking that way.
What can the government do about all that?
Raising the age limit to legally buy a firearm might help, although many mass killers have been older than 18.
Better and more widely applied background checks also might help, although some mass killers have been too young to have created much of a record, and a criminal record is not a predictor of mass killing.
“Red flag” laws such as the one the U.S. House passed Thursday might help. Such laws allow the courts to temporarily confiscate a person’s firearms if the person has been deemed a threat to himself or others. Republicans oppose the law passed this week, arguing it fails to protect the due-process rights of gun owners.
And no amount or kind of new legislation is going to improve things unless the government at all levels gets more diligent about enforcement than it has been with existing laws.
Whatever the solutions might be, they won’t be pass-and-forget propositions.
Neither of the bills the House passed this week have much chance of passing the Senate. But there’s some hope Senate Republicans led by John Cornyn of Texas are willing to work with Democrats toward solutions.
We should all encourage lawmakers on both sides to hold those discussions in good faith, with open minds and with eyes toward something far more important than pandering to their bases.
• Michael A. Smith