EDITORIAL: Rote responses, deflection mark latest mass shooting

York Dispatch

In the wake of the nation’s latest high-profile mass shooting, in which at least 26 people (half of them children) were killed and some 20 wounded while praying at a small church in rural Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, President Donald Trump deflected the suggestion that the nation’s lax gun laws were in any way culpable.

“We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries,” said the president during a press conference in Japan, where he was traveling, “but this isn’t a guns situation.”

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The president failed to follow the logic of his statement to its obvious conclusion. If we have a lot of mental health problems in our country, “as do other countries,” but no other country has anything like the level of gun violence we experience, then clearly this is very much a guns situation.

Not only do lower-level mass shootings (of four or more victims) take place on a near-daily basis, but mass-casualty conflagrations are likewise occurring more frequently. The most recent before Sunday, in which some 58 were killed and nearly 550 wounded outside a Las Vegas hotel, is barely a month old.

The fact that we even need to distinguish among “everyday” and more extreme mass shootings shows how numbingly commonplace these atrocities have become.

So do the rote-seeming responses by public officials.

Indeed, one of the trending hashtags on Twitter following the Texas church shooting was #Thoughtsandprayers, a knowing reference to the messages sent by too many lawmakers in the wake of such attacks — lawmakers who then take no concrete steps to address the ongoing carnage.

Trump’s talk of mental health is little more than laying political groundwork for such inaction. We’ve seen it before. On the one hand, focusing on mental health sends a clear signal that the nation’s weak and ineffective gun laws will not come in for scrutiny. On the other, neither has there been subsequent action on the mental health front.

Just the opposite, in fact.

In his second month in office, Trump revoked an Obama-era rule that made it more difficult for people with a history of mental illness to legally purchase firearms.

And several iterations of Republican efforts to do away with the Affordable Care Act would have slashed funding for coverage of mental health care.

So what have the administration and the GOP-led Congress suggested in the way of legislative measures to address the mental health-related aspects of mass shootings? That’s right: nothing.

If lawmakers were serious about the contention that mental health issues need to be addressed — and they do; they play a role in the ongoing epidemic — the back-to-back tragedies in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs would, one would think, ignite a firestorm of legislative activity.

But no. Such talk is simply an effort to change the subject for the brief period in which the public’s attention focuses on a particular tragedy. (Case in point: You know what legislative action has been taken at the federal level to ban bump stocks — the legal device used by the Las Vegas shooter to turn his semi-automatic rifles into fully automatic killing machines? Hint: See “legislative action on mental health issues.”)

Such talk is a companion to the argument that “it’s too soon” to discuss gun laws in the wake of a shooting.

Please! There’s plenty to talk about: Expanding background checks to include the mentally ill and those on federal no-fly lists; closing the gun-show loophole; banning the AR-15 (which was used not only in the Sutherland Springs attack but in mass shootings in Las Vegas, Orlando, Sandy Hook, Aurora, San Bernardino and elsewhere).

These moves will not stop all gun violence or even prevent specific attacks like the most recent in Sutherland Springs. That’s not the point; the point is to reduce gun violence and these efforts will take an important first step.

With mass shootings occurring almost daily and multiple-victim shootings on the rise, it is never “too soon” to talk about strengthening America’s gun laws. That discussion must start before even more Americans are added to the list of those for whom it is too late.