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Tragedy of the Congress

cut the bull

On Dec. 14, 2012, a young man armed with a semi-automatic weapon burst into Sandy Hook Elementary School and fatally shot 26 people–20 of whom were small children. On Jun. 12, 2016, another young man with an automatic weapon open-fired on a crowd at Pulse nightclub, killing 49 people who had gone out to enjoy a night of dancing. On Oct. 1, 2017, an older man with an automatic rifle murdered 58 people from the 32nd floor of a hotel, indiscriminately open-firing on a crowd of country music festival-goers.

These shootings–these horrific shootings that have become next to commonplace over the course of my lifetime–have much in common. In all three cases, and in many more, the perpetrator of the attack was an American citizen. In these cases and in many more, the attacker gained access to automatic military-grade weapons that could hold more than ten rounds at once. But perhaps most appallingly, each of these shootings was followed by a deafening, ear-ringing silence from Congress.

Certainly, in the days following these attacks, we see an outpouring of generous love and affection via Twitter from both Senators and Representatives. Our own North Carolinian Senator Richard Burr tweeted a statement, saying “My heart is with the people of Las Vegas and their first responders today. This morning’s tragic violence has absolutely no place here in America…”

Burr’s condolences are sweet, but they have yet to translate into tangible action. In fact, over the course of his political career, Senator Burr has received nearly seven million dollars in campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association. According to its website, the NRA is an organization dedicated to defending the Second Amendment right to bear arms for the purposes of recreational shooting sports. Its lobby spends millions of dollars annually working to prevent the passage of gun control legislation, regardless of whether the proposed bills relate at all to hunting or shooting sports. In funding the campaigns of Republican legislators at the local, state and federal levels, the NRA and its colleagues throughout the gun lobby have effectively disrupted the legislative will to protect the American people from mass gun violence.

It is one thing for the NRA to protect law-abiding citizens’ right to own a weapon. It is an entirely different matter, however, for the group to lobby legislative officials around goals that would serve no purpose but that of those intent on committing violent crime. For example, in a rare act of bipartisan productivity, the House of Representatives has put forth a bill criminalizing the sale of bump fire stocks, gun accessories that allow for a rapid release of rounds from semi-automatic weapons. These accessories are not necessary in hunting, nor would they be helpful in an attempt to aim at a “bad guy.” In fact, the sole advantage they present is in rapid, indiscriminate firing. Accessories like bump fire stocks have been used in several shootings over the past few years, including Las Vegas.

Despite bump fire stocks’ apparent uselessness in recreation and ability to cause fatal harm, the NRA opposes any legislation banning the sale of these accessories. Though this bill represents a small step in the path to comprehensive gun policy reform, the NRA’s firm grip on the Republican leadership throughout Congress destines the bill for certain failure. 

Herein lies the hypocrisy of the political attitude toward gun violence: Senator Burr and his colleagues across the nation like to claim that tragic violence “has no place in America.” They disparage acts of violence facilitated by weapons, and they condemn the perpetrators of these horrific crimes. And yet, as we have seen in shooting after shooting and death after death, these crimes do have a place in America, and they will continue to do so until Congress passes thorough and pragmatic gun regulation.

Many criticize legislative action against gun violence as a gross “politicization” of tragic death. Yet, this argument is a tired excuse for putting off vital conversations surrounding gun policy. There is no act more important after a grievous attack than a genuine respect for the fallen victims and their mourning loved ones, but this respect goes hand in hand with a dedication to justice and action. 

It is essential to remember that the 58 lives lost in Las Vegas represent potentially preventable deaths. With the advent of safe regulation of the weapons industry, we have the power to decrease the possibility of mass attacks like those that occurred in Virginia Tech, Las Vegas, and Orlando. In this sense, it is impossible to “politicize” the deaths of victims of mass gun violence–their unjust and despicable murders are already inherently political. The policies in place, when grasped in the hands of shooters, are directly responsible for the fatalities in Vegas, Sandy Hook, and elsewhere across the nation. To refrain from engaging with and amending these policies is to dishonor every American life lost to gun violence. 

Leah Abrams is a Trinity sophomore. Her column, "cut the bull," runs on alternate Fridays.