Future historians trying to make sense of Donald Trump’s presidency will marvel at the mortifying combination of frivolity and feral partisanship that enfeebles our national government in 2019.
by Will Marshall, President of the Progressive Policy Institute
Watching the nation’s political leaders tie themselves in knots over minor changes in gun laws, I can’t help but wonder if America hasn’t become the “pitiful, helpless giant” Richard Nixon warned about decades ago.
Nixon conjured up this arresting image to rally public support for his unpopular plan to invade Cambodia. But it seems more apt today, as Washington fails to stem the growing scourge of mass shootings.
The blunt truth is, the Republican Party is chiefly responsible for this paralysis of national will. Even as our children are slaughtered in classrooms, Republicans shrug and offer nothing more than “thoughts and prayers.” Sorry, they tell us, the U.S. Constitution bars us from taking effective action to protect our children from killers wielding weapons of war.
This is pathetic, and untrue. The Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, like the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, isn’t absolute. Just as you can’t falsely cry “fire” in a crowded theater, you don’t have a Constitutional right to buy an Abrams tank for hunting or self-defense.
But even if U.S. courts packed with conservatives rule that the Second Amendment does prevent us from keeping our children safe, the right response is not passive resignation — it’s amending the Constitution.
Future historians trying to make sense of Donald Trump’s presidency will marvel at the mortifying combination of frivolity and feral partisanship that enfeebles our national government in 2019. America, the country that cracked the atom, defeated the Axis, put a man on the moon and invented the Internet, seems to have lost what really made us great — our “can-do” optimism and pragmatic conviction that no problem is insoluble.
Today, urgent national problems — run-down infrastructure, uneven economic growth, climate change, mounting public debt, and yes, domestic terrorism — are seen as too big and complicated to tackle. Instead, President Trump, abetted by a spineless Republicans, spends most of his time concocting cruel and absurd “solutions” to phony problems (such as U.S. trade deficits and an “invasion” of criminal aliens) and sliming his critics on Twitter.
You don’t have to be a political scientist to know that government’s first and most fundamental responsibility is to protect its citizens from social chaos and violence. A basic level of security is the sine qua non for civilized life. Without it, societies sink into tribalism and barbarism. And people arm themselves because they don’t trust their government to protect them.
Why are so many people from Central America risking life and limb to trek to the U.S. border and cross it illegally? The main reason is that corrupt and incompetent governments back home can’t uphold public order and safety, much less create the conditions for broadly-shared growth.
Latin American and Caribbean countries are the most violent in the world. El Salvador, Honduras and Venezuela are near the top in rankings of international homicide rates. Murder rates also have spiked in Mexico. Migrants seeking refuge in the United States commonly cite extortion and threats from gangs as their reason for fleeing their homes.
It’s grimly ironic that the safe harbor they seek is itself beset by a pandemic of random shootings. Egged on by social media sites like 8chan, where the depraved gather to anonymously cheer mass murder, and enabled by easy access to military assault weapons, young men with twisted ideas compete to rack up the biggest body count.
Americans reasonably fear drawing a losing ticket in this obscene lottery of public massacres. It won’t happen to most of us, but it could happen to any of us anywhere — at work, at a concert, in stores, even in church. Worst of all, it’s happening in our schools. The stalking of our children by stonecold sociopaths is a national emergency, but where’s the national response?
We did “duck and cover” drills when I was in school in the 1960s, but it all seemed like play because nuclear annihilation was a pretty remote concept to third graders. One thing we didn’t have to worry about was getting mowed down in class by intruders with assault weapons. We had confidence that the adults around us would and could protect us from harm.
Can our children have that confidence? Not after hearing about the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida (17 students and teachers killed). And the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Connecticut (27 young kids and teachers killed) in Connecticut. And Columbine in Colorado (13 kids and school officials killed).
No wonder two-thirds of America’s public school districts now mandate “active shooter drills.” Is that really the best we can do?
Of course not. Here’s what our government can and should do now to shield our children from terror and violence:
First, ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and launch a national buy-back campaign. The evidence is overwhelming: Places that have more guns and more powerful guns have more gun deaths.
Second, demand universal background checks and establish a national gun registry. Both are correlated to lower rates of gun violence.
Third, amend the Constitution to clarify once and for all that the right to bear arms doesn’t mean you can carry anywhere and doesn’t apply to weapons of war.
Fourth, shut down 8chan and other websites that foment and sanction violence as an acceptable form of political protest.
Fifth, launch a national dialogue between government, parents and the entertainment industry to put boundaries around the pornography of violence.
Sixth, remember in 2020 which political parties and leaders are blocking action to protect our kids — and vote accordingly.