Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Perhaps you missed it, but last week the House of Representatives held its first hearing on gun violence in eight years.
I know, I know. You’ve had a lot to keep track of, what with everything from the meltdown in Virginia to Jeff Bezos’ selfies.
But about the hearing. Testimony centered on a bill that would make it more difficult for people to buy guns without thorough background checks. Supporters pointed out that right now it’s ridiculously easy to get lethal weapons from an unlicensed seller who is not going to check to see if said purchaser might have a record of violence, stalking or involuntary commitment for mental illness.
Opponents hugged the Second Amendment and argued that the real reason we have so many deaths by gunfire is ... well, guess:
Yes! Are we living in the age of Trump or what?
“I hope we do not forget the pain and anguish and sense of loss felt by those all over the country who have been the victims of violence at the hands of illegal aliens,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who read a short list of people who had been shot by unauthorized immigrants. Better background checks, he contended, “would not have stopped many of the circumstances I raised, but a wall, a barrier on the southern border may have, and that’s what we’re fighting for.”
Is there anything that the wall wouldn’t solve? Nearly 40,000 Americans died in gun violence in 2017, the last year for which we have records. But if only there’d been a huge concrete slab dividing us from Mexico, they’d be fine.
There are a lot of lawmakers prepared to say almost anything, no matter how nutty, in their role as worker bees for the National Rifle Association. But it was sort of surprising that the lead ranter was from Florida.
This week, we’ll be recalling the anniversary of the Parkland high school shootings in which one student with a gun took the lives of 17 people. We just passed the second anniversary of the fatal shooting of five people in the baggage claim area of the Fort Lauderdale airport. Which came six months after 49 people were shot to death at a nightclub in Orlando. And it was just a couple of weeks ago that a young man walked into a bank in Sebring, pulled out a pistol, forced five women to lay on the ground and shot each one in the back of the head.
All in Congressman Gaetz’s state. All the gunmen were native-born Americans. Perhaps Gaetz feels the border situation was sending dangerous vibes across the Gulf of Mexico and spurring them on.
Americans are very, very strongly in favor of good background checks, and it does seem likely this bill will pass the newly Democratic House. Beyond minor technical fixes, that’ll be the first time either chamber has done anything about the issue of gun violence in years.
Oh, wait. In 2017 the House and Senate got together and revoked an Obama-era regulation that had made it more difficult for mentally ill people to purchase a gun.
It’s highly unlikely the background check bill will make it into law. “Color me unclear as to how we get Mitch McConnell to bring it up in the Senate,” said Chris Murphy of Connecticut, one of the Senate sponsors.
Sigh. All you can do is keep on trying. It may not make the laws any better, but at least it’ll remind the public that some people in power are worried.
We have terrible gun problems in this country not just because firearms are all over the place, but also because of the careless, stupid attitude so many people have toward them.
Partly, I blame Congress. (Hey, it’s better than blaming a shortage of steel slat barriers.) Murphy believes the endless rejection of any gun legislation looks like a kind of “moral green light” to potential killers: “I truly believe these young men who have something very dark happening in their minds watch our silence and interpret it as an endorsement.”
It certainly helps perpetuate the attitude that guns are a casual part of everyday life, like your wallet or socks — something you wear when you go out to buy a loaf of bread, leave lying around the house and treat in general with less care and discretion than a light bulb.
Last year safety inspectors at American airports found 4,239 firearms in passengers’ carry-on bags — almost all of them loaded and a third with a bullet in the chamber. While a few of those people may have been plotting a crime, it’s pretty clear the vast majority were just incredibly careless with lethal weapons.
This is the kind of thinking that gives us endless mayhem involving violent, semi-deranged young men who just grab one of the family guns and mow down five people in a bar. Toddlers who shoot themselves when they stumble across a gun that Dad or Granddad left sitting on the bed. Or find a rifle in the back seat of the car and accidentally kill Mom while she’s pulling into the preschool parking lot.
We hear stories like that every day. Obviously, it’s all because of those caravans of immigrants coming to the border.
Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.