Soon, if not already now, we are getting numb to such tragedies. We can’t let numbness prevail. We can’t let this become the reality where we just accept and go on knowing that the next gun tragedy will be coming soon. That simply can’t be allowed to happen. It has gone from fairly infrequent to all-too-common, from schools, to black churches, mosques, to artsy crowds, entertainment venues, and now Walmart. Isn't that close enough to home to get everyone’s attention? If it’s not clear yet that this could happen anywhere, I don’t know what it will take.
This brings me to the role of the President when tragedy strikes. In the past, Presidents of both parties would visit affected areas to comfort victims and share in mourning the loss of American lives. Often, these trips are not for any political or policy purpose but simply to grieve and let the victims know that their nation is grieving with them, all the way up to the President. But with this particular President, it seems that every time he’s presented the opportunity to help heal the country, he fails by insulting victims or—in the case of Charlottesville—lifting up the perpetrators, even if said perpetrators are neo-Nazis and white supremacists. He’s consistently failed to show any empathy, leaving us to wonder if he even cares. And, when the crimes are racially motivated, he fails to show the leadership of past Presidents who have utilized the “bully pulpit” to provide some leadership and let the country know that hate and racism will never have the backing of an American President. Yes, he’s been capable of reading pre-written words to denounce hate, but until he acknowledges the division he’s created with his own rhetoric and begins to sincerely try to heal these divides, those words will continue to come across hollow.
And this leads to our failure to act on substantive reforms. Rather than just bounce from one tragedy to the next with similar reactions, shared concerns, and appropriate talking points, we need to get serious about the changes we need to make. I’m pleased to see the President mention specific policy measures that could address this crisis, but remember he’s mentioned background checks before, only to back away from that in the face of NRA pressure and a reminder from Senator McConnell about who writes the checks for Republican reelection bids. So whether the President will ever get beyond tweets, background checks, and blaming it all on mental illness I do not know. What I do know is that as long as we have so many gutless members of Congress and led by Moscow Mitch from Kentucky, we will never have the opportunity or enough pressure on the President to get real change. The 2020 election could help. Despite the National Rifle Association being in financial disarray and losing public support, we will soon find out if they still have a hold over most Republican members of Congress. Or will McConnell simply rely on all of us getting numb or forgetting the lessons of these tragedies by the time Congress returns from their summer recess?
This is a time when real leadership is needed, not just self-serving political rhetoric. Even if it's just a few, I hope people will remember the policy specifics the President has mentioned and work to hold he and Congress to those promises. But, as long as we’re finally getting into specifics, background checks are not enough. We need to stop the sale of automatic weapons and try some kind of buyback program to start to deal with the supply the public already has. What will it take for this to happen, for Congress and the President to get real? Will it require, say, three white nationalists all armed with automatic weapons killing an entire neighborhood at a community gathering?
Maybe some of the change we need can come from the private sector. Dick’s Sporting Goods has stopped selling automatic weapons. Maybe Walmart can follow and together start a movement. Military style automatic weapons have no place outside their role in defending this country and they definitely are not needed for hunting. Time will tell whether we as a country have the smarts and courage to do what is so obviously needed.