Congress capitulates to the NRA [Commentary]

"Guns don't kill, people do." What a flip response to the horrific epidemic of gun violence in the United States. Just this past weekend in Maryland, three young people, including the gunman, were shot to death in a mall in Columbia, and others were fatally shot in separate incidents in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City.

On average, 32 Americans are killed with guns every day (not counting suicides, which add another 56 daily deaths), and 140 are treated for gun assaults. The U.S. firearm homicide rate is 20 times higher than the combined rates of 22 peer countries, and mass killings occur in the United States every two weeks.

If this country were experiencing a cholera or typhus epidemic, the medical, public health and social welfare communities, along with various arms of local, state and national government, would band together immediately to stanch the havoc it was wreaking.

In comparison, the epidemic of gun deaths has been met with a lot of hand-wringing and public condemnation by political leaders but not much else. That's not leadership, that's capitulation.

Those who have not experienced firsthand the shooting death (or serious wounding) of a loved one or close friend by an individual wielding a firearm are not likely to suffer the same severe and perdurable sadness of those who have. In fact, many only begin to address a specific social ill after being impacted by it directly, be it drunk driving, breast cancer or AIDS.

Tellingly, numerous members (and former members) of Congress have initiated and founded their own programs and foundations to combat a major social problem or disease only after having experienced a family tragedy. The late Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who had prostate cancer, told a reporter: "There is no question that we [members of Congress] are motivated by what we know and what's been our experience with our families."

More specifically, Stevens asserted that he had lost count of the times lawmakers asked for money for various diseases or medical conditions directly affecting themselves or their family members.

(Full disclosure: I too have a personal interest in this topic. When I was 18, my volatile father, a former cop, held my mother, brother and me hostage at gunpoint one evening, threatening to blow our heads off.)

I fear, really fear, that little to no real movement regarding the epidemic of violence perpetrated by individuals with firearms in this country will ever be made (at least not in a way that truly ameliorates this epidemic) until members of Congress, or their close family members, are victims of such violence, though I hope that never comes to pass.

Then again, even that may not be enough to make Congress act. The 2011 attack on Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was critically wounded from a gunshot to the head, did not spur much action from her Congressional colleagues, despite her empassioned pleas.

Far too many Congress members seem too beholden to large private and corporate donors and/or too fearful of the National Rifle Association to act in the common good. They will do anything to avoid the possibility of losing votes, including doing little to nothing of consequence when their nation's own citizens continue to be cut down like so many figures in a video game.

We can't trust politicians to solve this matter on their own.

We, the people, of the United States who care deeply about the horrific carnage enveloping our nation perpetrated by young hoodlums, impressionable and mentally and morally immature teenagers, repeat violent offenders, and the mentally ill need to rise up and carry out a loud, aggressive and sustained onslaught against those members of Congress who fail to address this epidemic in a serious and efficacious manner. Either that, or we must accept the fact that the mass killings will occur regularly just as surely as the seasons of the year.

Samuel Totten, professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, is a scholar of genocide studies. His email address is samstertotten@gmail.com.


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