Friday, June 3, 2022

BTRTN: We Can’t Fix All the Problems that Caused Uvalde Fast Enough. But Here’s One Idea that Could Have a Real Impact Soon.

Each new Uvalde makes people feel ever more frustrated, angry... and feeling ever more powerless to effect change. Steve has an idea.

Perhaps we finally eliminated the theory that “the only answer to bad people with guns is good people with guns.” It doesn’t do much good if the “good people with guns” sit in the hallway for an hour while a madman with an assault rifle terrorizes a classroom, wounded children bleed out, and the urgent pleas from ten-year-old girls go unanswered.

Republican elected officials in Texas like to say things like “the only answer to bad people with guns is good people with guns.” And that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Texas Governor Greg Abbott wants you to believe that mass killings like the one that happened in his state last Tuesday are not because we have a “gun problem,” but because we have a “mental health problem.” The governor fails to grasp the irony: he is thereby characterizing the voters in his own state of having the highest concentration of mental illness in the nation, as six of the twelve largest incidents of mass murder by gun violence were in Texas.

Given Abbott’s beliefs about mental illness and the extraordinarily high incidence of mass shootings in Texas, you’d think he’d be spending a lot of Texas money to provide broad access to mental health care. Oops, not. According to Mental Health America, Texas is ranked the worst state in the union in terms of access to mental health services. Rarely is hypocrisy so precisely quantified.

Now, Governor Abbott is “livid” because he was lied to, not told that the police officers he heralded for bravery were huddled in a hallway outside the classroom for an hour as the killer terrorized children. How’s this for a theory, Governor Abbott? Your local police in Uvalde waited in the hallway for an hour because they suspected that if they charged the classroom against a man with an AR-15, each officer who attempted to enter the classroom would be slivered to ribbons before they could get a single shot off. 

You see, Governor Abbott, that alone is reason enough to ban AR-15 assault rifles. When the police race in to confront the next school killer, they will hold the advantage if the psychopath is not wielding an automated killing machine.

Here’s a difficult fact for the Governor to reconcile: the incidence of mental health problems in the United States is no different from that of other developed nations… and yet the United States alone has been home to 214 mass shootings (defined as at least four people being shot) in the first 145 days of 2022. No country that we would consider our economic, democratic, or cultural peer comes even close.

No one is going to disagree with Governor Abbott that mental health is a huge part of the problem, and that much more needs to be done to identify, monitor, and treat individuals who are in danger of turning violent.  

But if there is to be an investigation into mental illness problem as the essential problem in our pandemic of mass murder, surely that should include assessing the mental stability of a society that tolerates it, enables it, and even facilitates it.

Thoughtful and informed people (yes, we are now excluding Governor Abbott) are able to grasp that our pandemic of killing rampages has many, many causes, and we, as a society, have to fix many problems in order to effectively reduce the number of mass killings that occur in this nation.

Let’s start by asserting a correct interpretation of the Second Amendment, which reads in full: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Note for starters that the words “gun” or “rifle” do not appear in the Second Amendment. So, by the logic that the Second Amendment is an absolute and untouchable right for private citizens to “bear arms,” it must also logically permit citizens to own howitzers, chemical weapons, and nuclear bombs.  Here’s my idea: how about if we agree that every private citizen in the United States is allowed to own a gun as guns existed in 1791, when the Second Amendment was passed.  That should make all the mind-numbingly simplistic strict-constructionist Constitutional scholars happy, and it would solve our mass murder problem in about two minutes.

So let's be clear on one point: long before Donald Trump, long before Tucker Carlson, the original Republican "Big Lie" was the contention the Second Amendment forbids our Federal and state governments from passing legislation that restricts access to weaponry. We as a society under the United States Constitution have every right to regulate the ownership and use of deadly weapons like cars, alcohol, drugs, and yes, AR-15s.

Then there’s the fact that we as a nation allocate insufficient funding for K-12 education, and as a result, we are creating a nation of individuals who cannot handle the responsibilities of citizenship. We need to create citizens who understand that “freedom” is not an unlimited right of an individual, but a covenant of limitations mutually agreed up by a society in order to allow for the health, safety, and prosperity of all.  A good educational system might also create citizens who can watch Fox News and social media posts and discern between fact and propaganda. Today, one of the biggest obstacles to freeing our country from mass murder is that we do not even have a common understanding of the facts, the objective reality, the causality, and the proper interpretation of data to agree upon the problem, let alone the solution.  That Greg Abbott gets away with pretending that the radical availability of AR-15s does not bear a causal relationship to our pandemic of mass murders is a comment on the weakness of our educational system.

Now, let us turn our attention to exactly how our society is educated in the 21st Century. Because we need to take the position that we, as a society, are allowed to regulate the media, the broadcasters, and the social networks that claim to be protecting first amendment rights while they provide efficient platforms for hatred, lies, disinformation, and inciting violence. Americans apparently are unaware that prior to the 1980s, the three television networks operated under the scrutiny of the FCC, held to standards of accuracy and decency that were buttressed by the threats of losing their broadcast license.  Now, Facebook can enable and accelerate conspiracy theories, deceit, and murderous impulses without fear of consequence. Indeed, the more divisive and incendiary the post, the more profit they make... posts that stoke intense emotion tend to be shared more often and more widely. 

And yes, Governor Abbott, our inadequate K-12 funding does not enable us to adequately identify, monitor, and treat the individuals who represent a danger to society.  Your issue is one of the problems... not the entire problem.

Liberals, you can be angry about this one, but the fact is that our societal carnage has to be blamed in part on an entertainment industry that struggles to come up with a decent plot line unless someone gets violently murdered. If our television and movie studios were required to come up with gripping drama without the use of bullets and blood, a staggering percentage of Hollywood's output would disappear.

Of course, many people put all the blame for governmental inability to enact gun control laws on the power of the gun lobby and dependence on campaign donations from the NRA. The numbers do not support that explanation. Fortune recently reported the following:

Beyond lobbying, gun control groups …spent especially heavily in the 2020 election, with $16.6 million in outside spending. For 2022, they’ve already contributed $4.4 million, says OpenSecrets, based on its analysis of Federal Election Commission data.

$16 million might sound like a lot unless you read the data published by the Wesleyan Media Project that puts the total ad spending on the Presidential race in 2020 at $1.8 billion. The NRA money is a drop in the bucket.  Michael Bloomberg could offer every Red State Republican four times as much money if they simply would agree to vote to ban assault rifles... and he’s still have $50 billion to scrape by on.  It is convenient to blame the campaign donations of the NRA, but their role in this national morass is overstated.

The problems go much deeper and are much more pervasive and insidious. Every mass killing is some hideous cocktail with components of poverty, racism, victim-hood, and deranged and perverted notion of “personal empowerment,” our societal disease of believing that the rights of the individual are more important than the rights of the society.

Finally, we must face the ugly truth that we, as a society, have become lazy and sedentary, and do not take action. Too many people think that sharing a link on Facebook constitutes “action.” Re-posting a clever anti-gun slogan on Instagram gives people a smug sense that that they have actually done something. For all the hew and cry, not enough people are willing to do the hard work of ferociously attacking the inaction of our leaders.

After these horrific mass murders, people seem to do one of two things: half offer “thoughts and prayers,” and the other half demean people who offer “thoughts and prayers” as just so much talk. You know what? We could use a lot more “thoughts and prayers.”  We need more people actively thinking about how to solve the problem. And we need more people praying – not just for the souls of the victims and the grieving survivors, but prayers to their God for the courage, strength, and resolve to take action. To actually do something about the horror.  

How come our government cannot do anything about our mass murder epidemic?

Back on October 1, 2017, 58 people were killed and 867 injured when a supremely well-armed nut job sprayed automatic weapon fire from a hotel room window. On October 4, we here at BTRTN published an essay entitled “What Happened in Vegas Will Stay in Vegas,” confidently predicting that absolutely nothing would happen as a result of the tragedy. No new laws. No restrictions. No background checks. Nothing. In the past fifteen years, Born To Run The Numbers has made over 3,200 predictions (mostly highly accurate election forecasts) but our prediction that nothing would happen after Las Vegas was one of the easiest ever.

Our government is proving useless in creating gun legislation that reflects the popular will of our citizens. We see countless polls that conclude that an overwhelming majority of Americans want universal background checks prior to gun sales and want to ban the sale and ownership of assault weapons. But our Founding Fathers, concerned that small states would be "bullied" by larger states, intentionally designed a government in which small states have a disproportionately large amount of power in the Federal government. Just how bad has this this "disproportionate" representation become? The Senate is currently evenly divided with 50 each of Republicans and Democrats, but the Democrats in the Senate represent an astounding 41,549,808 more people than the Republicans.

The result? The people in Red States who believe that the government has no right to restrict gun ownership may be the minority of citizens in the United States… but because of the design of our government, they can essentially block any Federal legislation on gun regulation. The Republicans in smaller states have mastered how to wield that power… and, indeed, how to cheat to enlarge it. What Mitch McConnell did to screw Barack Obama out of his right to fill a Supreme Court vacancy was a soulless, amoral corruption of the long-standing and respected customs, practices, and traditions upon which our democracy rests. The only thing that can stop bad people from undercutting and corrupting our democracy is a majority constituted of good people who are willing to fight for it.

This points to the commonality between the precarious status of Roe v. Wade and the likely inaction following the Uvalve shooting. In both cases, the will of the American majority is being ignored by our government. A sizable majority of Americans – most polls seem to believe the number to be around 70% -- believe that women should have the right to choose. The numbers on gun legislation are even more skewed, with polls indicating that over 90% of Americans believe that there should be background checks prior to gun sales. But even with these stunning levels of popular sentiment, Republicans in Red States are able to wield the power granted in our Constitution to prevent that popular will from becoming law.

Uvalde is top of mind still, but just watch. In a few days, some atrocity from Ukraine, some horrific wildfire or tornado, or maybe just our fascination with Johnny Depp will broom Uvalde off the front pages. It will fade, and sometime in the not-too-distant future, a new town will take its turn as Newtown, and we will all struggle to remember the name of that place in Texas where nineteen children died because we as a people can’t agree on the problem, don't have a plan for taking action, and don't have the will to demand that something be done. 

Spoiler alert: the odds are extremely high that nothing will be done this time, either. Oh, it’s nice to hear that a few Republican Senators are chatting with Democrats… and it would be great if they were discussing the issue that would have the biggest impact. But we are not even doing that.

As we reel from the vomit-inducing mental image of ten-year-old children being ripped to pieces by a gunman firing rounds of burning metal into their tender bodies, let’s finally get real: there is one overwhelming problem and one urgent solution: ban the sale and ownership of assault style military weapons.

Right now, most of the dialog you hear about government action is centered on the issue of universal background checks. Make no mistake: the reason for this focus is not because it is the right next step… it is because it is the only step that Democrats think they have even the slightest chance of making progress on.

The premise of universal background checks is at best imperfect and at worst actually counterproductive. It implies that it is fine for someone with no history of mental illness to own a military style assault rifle. In order to make a small legislative gain, Democrats appear to be signing on to a preposterous concession: that anyone should be able to buy a military style assault weapon. The fact is that no one – no private citizen, period – needs an AR-15.

So what happens? The Senate may expend an enormous amount of time and political capital to try to broker a deal on universal background checks, and if Republicans finally accept this, they say, “See, we compromised! But we won’t do anything more!”

And the real problem – that any citizen can legally buy a military style assault rifle – is never dealt with.

Not after Newtown. Not after Las Vegas. Not after Uvalde. Not after the shooter next time.

There was once a ban on assault rifles in the United States. It was passed in 1994 under Bill Clinton (a Democrat, of course) and it contained the fatal flaw of expiring unless overtly renewed by Congress after ten years. In 2004, under George Dubya Bush (a Republican, of course), it died.

It worked. I am quoting from reporting by the Washington Post:

… Louis Klarevas, a research professor at Teachers College at Columbia University, studied high-fatality mass shootings (involving six or more people) for his 2016 book “Rampage Nation.” He said that compared with the 10-year period before the ban, the number of gun massacres during the ban period fell by 37 percent and that the number of people dying because of mass shootings fell by 43 percent. But after the ban lapsed in 2004, the numbers in the next 10-year period rose sharply — a 183 percent increase in mass shootings and a 239 percent increase in deaths.

Do Americans support a ban on assault weapons? Here is a quote from the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence:

For years, an overwhelming majority of Americans have recognized that assault weapons have no place in our communities or on our streets. Polling conducted over the past seven years (2015, 2017, 2019) shows that over 60 percent of Americans consistently favor a ban on assault weapons and on large capacity magazines.  A 2019 poll conducted in the wake of a series of mass shootings found that as many as 70% of Americans support a federal assault weapons ban including a majority of Republicans (55%), gun owners (57%), and military members (65%).  Yet, despite this stable, widely shared view, assault weapons and large capacity magazines remain legal and easy to buy, often with no questions asked.

We are failing, as a nation and a society, to truly cope with the biggest problem. And until we do, nothing is going to change.

So you sit at home, depressed to read this, like so many others about Uvalde, leaving you with the sense that there is nothing you can do.

There actually is something that could come out of the horrors of Uvulde that could have a more powerful immediate impact on enacting gun legislation than just about any of the issues discussed in this column.

And you, sitting at home, can help.

Here’s the idea.

Beto O’Rouke is running against Greg Abbott for Governor of Texas.

Beto O’Rouke has had the guts to say out loud in Texas that assault weapons have to go. When visiting Uvalde, O'Rourke made his position crystal clear: "If you want a solution, stop selling AR-15s in the state of Texas."

Let’s do everything we can to make the Texas gubernatorial election  a national referendum on assault rifles.   

The single best thing that could happen for Uvulde and millions of children across America is if Texans finally rose up and swept out its line-up of Republican leaders who are more focused on the rights of gun owners to own assault rifles rather than on the right of ten-year-olds to see their eleventh birthday.

One candidate – Greg Abbott –  doesn’t believe that there is any link between access to assault rifles and the carnage in Uvalde, and does not want any legislation that restricts ownership of assault rifles. 

The other candidate – Beto O’Rourke – thinks that the right of the ten year to live and the right of the parent to send their child to school without worry they will be murdered should take priority.

C’mon, Texans, take your pick. Tell America who you think is right.

Citizens of Texas: You've had six of the twelve largest mass murders in  your state. Do you realize what a powerful statement you could make by throwing out a Governor who appears more beholden to the NRA than to your children? Please, Texas... you can lead the way. Say that you have had enough in the only way that our politicians will ever really hear.

Let's put the eyes of the United States on Texas. For all you people across America who feel powerless and who don’t know what you, personally can do, take out your checkbook and write the biggest check you can afford to Beto O’Rourke's campaign for Governor of Texas. Let us do everything we can to make this one election a referendum on assault rifles, and then let's win.

Because nothing would signal to Republican politicians across our land that Americans want change in our gun laws more than if Beto O’Rourke beat Greg Abbott in November’s governor’s race. 

Nothing will communicate that the people of this nation want change on gun laws faster or more effectively than if Texans reject the inaction, denial, and deceit of their Republican leaders. 

This is not a solution that requires decades of re-engineering our society. We can send an unmistakable message about assault rifles this November... in five short months.

Write a check. Volunteer. Call a friend who lives in Texas. Ask for their help. Ask how you can help. Tell them that we all need them to send a message to Austin that Texans will not tolerate another town ripped to pieces by a psychopath who has easy access to a killing machine.

Get on a phone bank that calls voters in Texas and tell them that Texans actually have a chance to lead the nation on the single issue that most needs change in America.

Do something. 

Accept this truth: if you really want your government to do something, you have to do something first. 

Doing something is getting outside of your comfort zone and putting your heart, your soul, and your time on the line for all of the families who don’t yet know that the next killer is headed toward the elementary school in their town.

The best thing we can do right now to signal to our leaders that we cannot and will not tolerate the murder of our children is to get rid of the ones who do.

Getting rid of Greg Abbott is a great place to start.  


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