BY JOE CONASON
Whenever someone commits a heinous gun crime like the massacre in Las Vegas, politicians swiftly assure us that the victims and their families are “in our thoughts and prayers.” What these mush-mouthed messages mean, in plain English, is that government, as embodied in those politicians, will do nothing to make the country safer from gun violence. Thoughts and prayers are all we’re going to get.
In fact, those same elected officials are almost always poised to rubber-stamp statutes that will make us less safe, such as Congressional Republicans’ upcoming proposals to deregulate silencers and expand concealed-carry rights. The Vegas shooter got nearly two dozen weapons into his hotel room at Mandalay Bay, but our brilliant legislators believe it’s still too difficult to transport weapons of mass murder.
And that killer in Vegas could have mowed down dozens more innocent people if only he could have put a suppressor on his weapon, preventing anyone from seeing the muzzle flash up on the 32nd floor.
So when they tell us that we are all in their “thoughts and prayers,” don’t mistake that grating cliche for genuine compassion. In thrall to the National Rifle Association, as so many legislators are, they are ensuring that more of us – and yes, our families – will suffer violent deaths. The NRA compensates them lavishly to betray us. The last time Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ran for re-election, the gun lobby, which represents firearms manufacturers far more faithfully than ordinary gun owners, gave him almost a million dollars.
With 58 dead so far and hundreds wounded, the Vegas shooting is reportedly the worst in U.S. history, breaking the record set in 2016 at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. This year alone, America has endured 273 incidents of mass shootings, adding to the list of thousands of slaughters over the past 10 years.
Such phenomenally destructive acts, even as they become more commonplace, shouldn’t make us forget the toll that daily gun violence inflicts on the innocent. Every year, more than 110,000 Americans are shot and more than 20,000 Americans kill themselves with a gun.
Also, American women are far more likely to be killed with a gun than women in other advanced countries. [Undoubtedly, American children are more likely to kill themselves or their playmates with a loose gun, too.]
Yet so powerful is the dictatorship of the gun-makers and their servants in the NRA that anyone who dares to mention gun regulation, even in the aftermath of a bloodbath, is castigated for “politicizing” tragedy.
In a democracy, this taboo amounts to moral idiocy, enforced even by the “liberal media.” The cable news and broadcast commentators praised Donald Trump’s meaningless statement about Las Vegas as “pitch perfect” precisely because he didn’t mention guns. Of course, Trump knows very well that the NRA spent millions on his election – so the “carnage” that they encourage is perfectly acceptable to him.
Except it is neither acceptable nor inevitable, as the dimmer media bulbs always suggest at these moments. The simple truth is that states with stronger gun regulation are safer than those without similar laws, even though gun traffickers can and do cross state lines. And states with weaker gun regulation – like Nevada, where certain kinds of machine guns are legal, where no permit is required to purchase a firearm, and where Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed universal background checks – are considerably less safe. [Naturally, Sandoval offered his “prayers” for “the victims & all affected by this act of cowardice” in a cheap tweet.]
With murderous neo-Nazis, ISIS-inspired fanatics and assorted other lunatics at large, we need to make it far more difficult to obtain the semi-automatic weapons that can be converted into fully automated killing machines. Instead, as many law enforcement officials worry, our political paralysis enables terrorists of any stripe to acquire as many weapons as they want.
Someday, even the dullest commentators may understand that politicizing urgent public issues is essential to a democratic society. Someday, even the stupidest voters may come to realize that the proliferation of weapons doesn’t protect them or their families, but only increases the likelihood that a maniac will take the lives of their loved ones. And someday, even the most blind and venal politicians may stop tweeting out rote condolences, and take action to end the madness.
Before that day arrives, hundreds and thousands will surely die.
– Joe Conason’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer