EDITORIAL: On mass shootings, put up or shut up

York Dispatch Editorial Board
People turn out for the Hope Border Institute prayer vigil Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019 in El Paso, Texas, a day after a mass shooting at a Walmart store. (Mark Lambie/The El Paso Times via AP)

One week.

Four mass shootings.

Seventy-six injured.

Thirty-five killed.

And no words.

Recent mass shootings in El Paso, Dayton, Brooklyn and Gilroy, Calif., have followed a depressingly similar script. Aggrieved gunmen, innocent victims, devastated survivors and do-nothing lawmakers.

Let’s correct that: Do-nothing Republican lawmakers.

Democrats, from former President Barack Obama on down, have called repeatedly over the years for sensible restrictions to help reduce the unending series of mass-casualty attacks terrorizing the nation. The Democratic-led House has passed several gun-safety measures just this term, including the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019. They’ve gone nowhere in the Senate, blocked by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The Kentucky Republican exemplifies his party, which, with very few exceptions (Pennsylvania’s Sen. Pat Toomey among them), has largely toed the NRA-financed line that any gun-related legislation somehow “infringes” on Second Amendment rights. 

So much like another equal-opportunity threat to the American people, climate change, gun violence is becoming a partisan issue.

And the killing continues.

The most recent attack, as of this writing, in Dayton was the nation’s 251st mass shooting this year. Yes, four or more people are wounded or killed by a single shooter more than once a day in this nation.

And it was the 32nd mass shooting, as defined by the Justice Department, in which there were three or more fatalities.

Meanwhile, emerging patterns are ignored.

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Easily accessible semi-automatic assault rifles were used in at least three of the four most recent attacks. In Dayton, police were on the scene and took down the gunman less than one minute into his murderous spree. He still managed to kill nine people and wound more than two dozen others. Gunmen at an El Paso Walmart and a garlic festival in Gilroy likewise used high-powered weapons to spray crowds.

Yet President Trump, speaking from the White House on Monday, proposed no new gun laws, despite a Twitter message earlier in the day calling for “strong background checks.” He instead blamed the week-long spree of carnage on everything from violent video games to mental illness.

The president, at least, denounced the rising tide of white nationalism in no uncertain terms — something he has been reticent to do in the past. “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” he said.

One can only hope he saw his own reflection in the TelePrompter as he read those words. Because, characteristically, the president took no responsibility for how the angry rhetoric he routinely employs on social media and at his rabble-rousing campaign rallies — particularly against immigrants — may incite racial tensions.

At least one of the recent attackers — the gunman in El Paso — was motivated by hatred of immigrants, as he made clear in a statement he posted online just minutes before opening fire. “(T)his attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” he wrote, paraphrasing the president’s description of asylum seekers.

So at this time of national crisis, far more is needed from President Trump than a stiffly read statement that dodges both responsibility and response.

If the president believes, as he told the nation Monday, that “hatred has no place in America,” he must demonstrate that by word and deed.

He must refrain from hateful, racially divisive rhetoric online and onstage.

He must continue to denounce racism and bigotry – forcefully, clearly and often.

And most importantly, he must push McConnell and the Senate’s Republican majority to either take up the sorely needed gun-safety measures passed by the House or propose something better.

Because when it comes to the epidemic of mass-casualty gun violence in America, there are no words – action is the only thing that matters now.