US Repub­li­cans and gun vi­o­lence

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - OPINION - YASHENG HUANG Project Syn­di­cate ———— Yasheng Huang is pro­fes­sor of global eco­nom­ics and man­age­ment at the MIT Sloan School of Man­age­ment and a vis­it­ing scholar at Har­vard Univer­sity’s Kennedy School of Gov­ern­ment.

Bos­ton—Af­ter the mass shoot­ing at a con­cert in Las Ve­gas, Ne­vada, the other week, Repub­li­can Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell told re­porters: “It’s par­tic­u­larly in­ap­pro­pri­ate to politi­cize an event like this. It just hap­pened within the last day and a half.”

With 59 dead and more than 500 in­jured, McCon­nell in­sisted that it was “[e]ntirely pre­ma­ture to be dis­cussing about leg­isla­tive so­lu­tions” to Amer­ica’s gun-vi­o­lence epi­demic. His party’s leg­isla­tive pri­or­ity, he added, would con­tinue to be tax cuts.

McCon­nell’s re­sponse was fully in keep­ing with the Repub­li­can Party’s stance on gun vi­o­lence. It is dis­heart­en­ing, how­ever, that none of the re­porters as­sem­bled in front of McCon­nell so much as tried to call him out on his po­si­tion.

It would not have been un­rea­son­able to ask the Se­nate ma­jor­ity leader: “If you think it is pre­ma­ture now, then when do you think the right time will be? Could you pro­vide a timetable?” Nor would it be un­rea­son­able to ques­tion the premise that Democrats are “politi­ciz­ing” a tragedy. Af­ter all, claim­ing politi­ciza­tion has been the go-to Repub­li­can talk­ing point af­ter ev­ery gun mas­sacre for decades now.

McCon­nell and his Repub­li­can col­leagues should have to ex­plain why they will not even dis­cuss pol­icy so­lu­tions to the scourge of gun vi­o­lence in Amer­ica, in­stead of be­ing al­lowed to con­tinue pur­su­ing their trans­par­ent ef­forts sim­ply to avoid the is­sue of gun con­trol. And they must be held ac­count­able for their po­si­tions, which re­flect an in­stinct, both telling and chill­ing, to view any dis­cus­sion about gun vi­o­lence as a po­lit­i­cal is­sue, of­fer­ing an op­por­tu­nity to score par­ti­san points, rather than as a pol­icy and pub­lic-safety is­sue.

One could ar­gue that the re­peated mass shoot­ings in the United States over the past few decades have all had a Repub­li­can stamp on them. Af­ter ev­ery (pre­dictable) tragedy, the party mo­bi­lizes to block any leg­is­la­tion that might strengthen gun con­trols. In 1996, the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Congress went so far as to threaten to de­fund the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion if it even tried to study gun vi­o­lence. Un­til the Sandy Hook mas­sacre in 2012, the CDC was forced to ab­stain from con­duct­ing any such re­search.

The re­sponse to the Las Ve­gas shoot­ing from Paul Ryan, the Repub­li­can Speaker of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, has been to dis­miss the is­sue of guns, and to in­stead frame the tragedy as pri­mar­ily a men­tal-health is­sue. Ac­cord­ingly, Ryan has been breathily tout­ing re­forms to the men­tal-health sys­tem that Repub­li­cans sup­pos­edly worked on in the past.

But Ryan chose not to men­tion the fact that, this past Fe­bru­ary, his Repub­li­can col­leagues (and four Democrats) in the Se­nate voted to re­voke a rule re­quir­ing the So­cial Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­port the names of men­tally dis­abled So­cial Se­cu­rity re­cip­i­ents to the Na­tional In­stant Crim­i­nal Back­ground Check Sys­tem. Af­ter that vote, US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­pealed the rule, al­low­ing men­tally ill in­di­vid­u­als to pur­chase deadly firearms with­out hin­drance.

Ryan also ne­glected to men­tion that his party’s re­peated ef­forts to re­peal the 2010 Af­ford­able Care Act (“Oba­macare”) in­cluded plans to de­fund men­tal-health pro­grams, and to elim­i­nate a rule re­quir­ing in­sur­ance com­pa­nies and Med­i­caid to pro­vide men­tal-health treat­ments.

Jour­nal­ists and pun­dits tend to be vague when as­sess­ing cul­pa­bil­ity in this dis­tinctly Amer­i­can tale. They blame the fail­ure to ad­dress Amer­ica’s gun-vi­o­lence prob­lem on Congress, the “Wash­ing­ton es­tab­lish­ment,” or the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem as a whole. Such man­u­fac­tured even­hand­ed­ness is tan­ta­mount to “fake news.” It is time to call a spade a spade: The Repub­li­can Party is over­whelm­ingly re­spon­si­ble.

Con­sider the is­sue of “bump stocks,” the gun mod­i­fi­ca­tion that the per­pe­tra­tor of the Las Ve­gas mas­sacre used to be able to fire faster. Some Repub­li­can sen­a­tors have now drawn praise for in­di­cat­ing that they will sup­port a ban on the de­vice. But when Demo­cratic Sen. Diane Fe­in­stein pro­posed a sim­i­lar ban in 2013, Repub­li­cans over­whelm­ingly op­posed her. Af­ter decades of such staunch op­po­si­tion to any sem­blance of gun con­trol, the small amount of flex­i­bil­ity Repub­li­cans are show­ing on ban­ning bump stocks—which will just make killing with semi­au­to­matic weapons slightly slower—should not be rea­son for high praise.

To be sure, some con­gres­sional Democrats and in­de­pen­dents have oc­ca­sion­ally joined Repub­li­cans in block­ing gun-con­trol leg­is­la­tion. But there is a fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence: Democrats who op­pose gun con­trols do so in de­fi­ance of their party’s of­fi­cial pro­gram, whereas Repub­li­cans do so in con­form­ity with theirs. As a re­sult, the de­gree of cul­pa­bil­ity be­tween the par­ties is not even close. For ev­i­dence of this, one need only fol­low the money. Ac­cord­ing to the Los An­ge­les Times, in 2016 the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion do­nated $52.6 million to elec­toral cam­paigns, of which just $265—yes, you read that right—went to Demo­cratic can­di­dates. McCon­nell re­ceived $1.3 million from the NRA in 2016 alone.

Af­ter the 2012 mas­sacre at Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School in New­town, Con­necti­cut, where a lone gun­man mur­dered 26 school­child­ren and their teach­ers, Sen. Joe Manchin, a Demo­crat, pro­posed a bill to re­quire uni­ver­sal back­ground checks on all com­mer­cial gun pur­chases. The Manchin Amend­ment failed to gain the 60 votes needed to over­come a Repub­li­can fil­i­buster. Just four of the 54 sen­a­tors who voted in fa­vor of the bill were Repub­li­cans; only five of the 46 sen­a­tors who voted against it were Democrats.

Mass mur­der­ers such as Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook, Omar Ma­teen at the Pulse night­club in Or­lando in 2016, Stephen Pad­dock in Las Ve­gas, and count­less others pulled the trig­ger. But the Repub­li­can Party acted as a po­lit­i­cal ac­com­plice to all of these mur­der­ous acts.

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