When it comes to gun control, President Trump’s response to the questions “If not me, who? If not now, when?” might very well be “Not me. Not now. Not ever.”
Following the shootings in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 which left 59 people dead and 241 wounded, the next day was just “too soon,” as the president put it, to be talking about such “radical” ideas as outlawing modified bump stocks that turn rifles into virtual automatic weapons and tightening gun purchasing restrictions. But no sooner did that tragedy occur than another one happened.
That mass shooting was on Sunday, with notoriously violent Air Force washout and mental hospital escapee Devin Patrick Kelley firing an assault rifle he should have never had access to into a church full of people in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 men, women and small children. Twenty others were wounded in the attack.
According to CNN, the Air Force has acknowledged that it did not relay information about Kelley’s court martial conviction for domestic assault to civilian law enforcement officials. If that had been done, it could have prohibited him from buying the weapon used in the slaughter.
Much as he did with 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, who opened fire from his Mandalay Bay hotel room on a crowd of concert goers below, the president characterized Kelley as mentally unbalanced.
“This isn’t a guns situation,” Trump said to reporters Tuesday during the start of a diplomatic trip to Asia. “This is a mental health problem at the highest level. It’s a very, very sad event. … A very, very sad event, but that’s the way I view it.”
Sunday’s incident marked the 387th mass shooting in the United States since Jan. 1, a nearly yearlong killing spree which so far has claimed a total of 499 lives, including the 86 homicide victims in Vegas and Sutherland Springs. These incidents combined have also caused a total of 1,619 injuries of varying severity, again including victims in Nevada and Texas, according to massshootingtracker.org.
Now, five days after the incident in Sutherland Springs, it’s apparently still too soon to talk about what happened, mainly because the president, instead of offering any fresh ideas on stemming the carnage, has reverted to picking on one of his favorite foils, the mentally ill.
It’s not been determined whether Paddock had any mental health issues, although it’s been reported by FOX News that members of his family did. But the president was correct about Kelley, who was once committed to a mental health facility, which he reportedly escaped from. He was also correct in saying neither man should have had access to purchasing firearms. However, if Trump really believed that he would not have rolled back Obama-era regulations that would have kept weapons out of the hands of at least some people with impaired mental health.
In February, less than a month after taking office, Trump signed legislation that killed a regulation that would have made it more difficult for up to 75,000 people with mental illnesses and other problems to purchase guns. The regulation added people receiving Social Security checks for mental illnesses and people deemed unfit to handle their own financial affairs to the national background check database, according to NBC News.
Naturally, President Trump did not mention that he signed a bill actually making it easier for people with mental health problems to buy guns, just as he fails to mention that he accepted nearly $970,000 in campaign contributions from gun rights groups in the presidential election, by far the highest amount collected by any of the 27 candidates from all parties. Not surprisingly, fellow Republicans Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio came in second and third, respectively, Cruz with more than $518,000 and Rubio with nearly $252,000, according to opensecrets.org.
According to the website, gun rights contributions to Republicans have totaled more than $36 million since 1990, compared to $4.5 million in donations going to Democrats during that time.
The GOP’s shameless subservience to the National Rifle Association and gun manufacturers continues in Congress with most of its Republican members, even though 84 percent of all Americans, including a majority of Republican respondents, support expanding background checks to include private firearm sales and purchases at gun shows, according to a June Pew Research Center poll.
The poll also showed that 30 percent of gun owners believe that restricting the legal sale of guns would result in fewer mass shooting, while 56 percent of non-gun owners believe that would be the effect.
It’s time for GOP leaders to stop kissing the NRA’s behind, set aside their checkbooks and push away from the heavily armed ringmaster feeding all the elephants in the room. It’s also time for Congress to set aside its differences on these issues and work out common-sense regulations that most Americans don’t just want but desperately need.
If this doesn’t happen and Congress fails in this modest task to keep us safe, the increasing number and frequency of ever deadlier assaults virtually guarantee that one day soon we all will have a better than good chance of being an innocent victim in an incident similar to those in Vegas last month and Texas last week.