Cornyn’s efforts at gun legislation have been in vain, but this time seems different.
Much has been written about the remarkably similar talking points Republicans parrot whenever the country suffers another mass murder at the hands of a killer wielding a semi-automatic assault weapon: “thoughts and prayers go to victims,” “not the right time to talk about guns,” “politicizing this tragedy is disrespectful to the dead.” The statements are so consistent it’s not unreasonable to imagine that they are coordinated by and disseminated from a central authority — could it be the National Rifle Association? — in an attempt to shield the gun industry.
The pattern was depressingly, predictably repeated after Devin Kelley shot and killed 26 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, with a notably egregious response from Attorney General Ken Paxton, who declared that the solution to gun violence is more guns.
But there was a modest break from the Party line by our own U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who has introduced legislation that could help prevent future massacres. He proposes to strengthen background checks by ensuring that all federal departments and agencies properly transfer criminal records to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Under current law, Kelley’s criminal conviction while in the Air Force would have prevented him from buying a gun, but the records never made it into the system. “According to the Department of Justice, the number of these records that are actually uploaded is staggeringly low,” Cornyn said.
Paxton, of course, stuck to the party line. “It’s going to happen again,” he opined, “so we need people in churches — either professional security or at least arming some of the parishioners, or the congregation, so they can respond when something like this happens again.”
Setting aside for a moment the sheer callousness of blaming the victims for the tragedy because they didn’t have the foresight to pack heat for their morning worship service, let’s take a strictly clear-eyed look at what he is proposing. An AR-15 rifle, firing at least 50 rounds per minute, is terrifyingly loud, like a string of explosions going off in very rapid succession. Shell casings are spewing forth in all directions. People are screaming, children are wailing, the person next to you has been hit and you are covered in her blood. The guy walking down the aisle and killing your neighbors is dressed all in black, with a black mask and a bullet-proof vest.
Now, Mr. AG, as the parishioners are trying to keep their loved ones from being killed, you are suggesting that each should dig into a pocket or a purse, extract a pistol, release the safety, aim at a moving target and take the madman out. Trained police officers in New York City achieved a hit rate of about 28 percent in a 2006 Firearms Discharge Report described in The New York Times, so the likelihood of hitting an innocent bystander is far greater than hitting the killer.
But the real fallacy of foolish statements like Paxton’s is the simple fact that most people don’t want to shoot another human being. We would all like to keep our families safe, but we would prefer to do that by preventing violence before it happens. The percentage of Americans who own guns has been declining, which may explain why the gun industry doesn’t want any limits on the sale of assault weapons. These guns are among their most profitable products.
Sen. Cornyn, who has never seemed completely comfortable with the Republican’s hardline opposition to sensible gun legislation, has waded into the Second Amendment thicket before. After 49 people were gunned down in a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., last year, he introduced legislation that would prevent anyone on the FBI’s terrorist watch list from buying a gun; it was voted down by his Republican colleagues. In the wake of the country’s deadliest mass shooting at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas in October, he was “open,” at least tentatively, to legislation that would ban the sale of bump stocks, the attachment that allowed Stephen Paddock, who killed and injured more than 600 people in a 10-minute fusillade, to convert his semiautomatic weapons into the equivalent of automatic rifles. That legislation has stalled.
Cornyn’s efforts so far have been in vain, but this time seems different. If he is successful with this piece of legislation to strengthen background checks, we hope it will encourage him to rethink his misguided proposal to nationalize concealed carry laws, meaning a permit granted in one state would have to be recognized in all other states. Beyond its blatant trampling on the authority of each state to decide how to protect its own citizens, it flies in the face of strengthening background checks since the rigor with which states “check” gun owners for these permits varies wildly. The NRA supports the bill; many law enforcement officials do not.
This page has long advocated restrictions on assault weapons, but we will take what we can get, and Cornyn’s proposals for stronger background checks and preventing terrorists from buying guns aren’t a bad start. Neither of these regulations would impede any citizen from owning a gun for sport shooting, hunting or protecting home and family, but they would be far more effective than “thoughts and prayers” at preventing the gut-wrenching tragedies that have become far too commonplace in America.
The percentage of Americans who own guns has been declining, which may explain why the gun industry doesn’t want any limits on the sale of assault weapons. These guns are among their most profitable products.