If you want to understand why we can’t get even the simplest of gun safety laws passed in this country, look to the stats on COVID-19 vaccinations.
New polling out this week — released between the horrific shootings in Atlanta and the outrageous grocery story murders in Boulder — found that nearly half of Republican men do not intend to get vaccinated. This is a higher share of vaccine deniers than among any other demographic group studied.
Why won’t they get vaccinated to help stop a global pandemic? Because they don’t trust government, don’t trust a Democratic president, don’t trust science, don’t trust Anthony Fauci and fear the vaccines aren’t safe. But most of all, they think they are invincible against the virus and therefore claim individual liberty above all else. They also tend to watch Fox News and listen to talking heads like Tucker Carlson.
In short, they have been politicized to believe another great lie — just as they bought Donald Trump’s big lie that he won the 2020 presidential election when he did not.
“We’ve never seen an epidemic that was polarized politically before,” Robert J. Blendon, a health policy scholar at Harvard University, recently told the Los Angeles Times.
Actually, we have seen such a thing: The politicization of the epidemic of gun violence in America.
The same people who brought you the big lie about the 2020 presidential election, as well as the big lie about the danger of coronavirus (despite nearly 3 million deaths worldwide) now bring you once again the big lie about guns.
It’s as though they have talking points printed on index cards they carry in their back pockets. Before Boulder’s dead were identified by name Monday, gun-rights advocates hauled out their well-worn line: “Now is not the time to talk about this.”
No kidding. The Colorado State Shooting Association — which had sued the city of Boulder to prevent a ban on assault weapons from taking effect — pulled out its talking points and joined the fray: “There will be a time for the debate on gun laws. There will be a time for the discussion on motives. There will be a time for a conversation on how this could have been prevented. But today is not the time.”
And yet there never seems to be the right time. In reality, gun-rights advocates led by the National Rifle Association never want to talk about common-sense gun laws.
“The same ‘now is not the time’ sentiment — almost word for word — has been spoken by gun-rights advocates after every mass murder in recent history.”
In case you’re not keeping score at home, this is not an original line. The same “now is not the time” sentiment — almost word for word — has been spoken by gun-rights advocates after every mass murder in recent history: From the 1999 mass murder at Columbine High School in Colorado; to the 2012 mass murder at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.; to the 2017 mass murder at a concert in Las Vegas; to the 2018 mass murder at a high school in Parkland, Fla. And the list goes on and on.
Why is “now” never the right time to talk about America’s problem with needless gun violence? Probably because gun-rights advocates know it would be harmful to their cause to have a robust discussion about guns while the nation is reeling from yet another mass murder committed with guns. They know we have a short attention span and a fast news cycle, so if they can just delay the conversation until the gun stops smoking, there won’t be so much passion.
Year after year, tragedy after tragedy, Congress holds hearings and the same old battle lines get drawn deeper. Partisan Congressional hearings do not equal a national conversation on this important issue.
The pro-gun lobby — which translates to the Republican Congressional caucus — stops the conversation at every turn, ably led by the likes of Mitch McConnell, who has made it his mission in life from 2008 forward to deny Democratic agenda items like gun control a hearing in the Senate.
“Partisan Congressional hearings do not equal a national conversation on this important issue.”
If you’re fretting that I’m simply picking on Republicans, here is the data: Last year, gun-rights groups gave $31,000 in contributions to Democrats serving in or running for Congress and nearly $1.8 million to Republicans. In the 2018 midterms cycle, the funding gap was even more pronounced: $73,000 to Democrats and $4.2 million to Republicans. In 2016, the split was $67,000 to Democrats and $5.3 million to Republicans.
It’s no wonder Republican legislators never think it’s the right time to talk about gun violence.
Yet the American public thinks otherwise. The share of Americans who favor banning high-capacity ammunition magazines, for example, rose to 71% in 2019, up from 65% two years earlier. And the share of Americans who believe gun laws should be made stricter increased from 52% in 2017 to 60% in 2019.
But Republicans in Congress — with McConnell chief among them — have blocked anything more meaningful than a committee hearing for years.
Washington Post columnist Max Boot has their number, too: “Mass shootings in Boulder, Colo., and Atlanta remind us that, long after COVID-19 is gone, the epidemic of gun violence will still be with us because of the equivalent of the anti-maskers — irrational, extremist Republican politicians who oppose nearly all gun regulations. The Republican position is enraging: They want to make voting hard and gun ownership easy.”
And who are those voters enabling this political blockade?
On the question of how to balance the right to own guns against the need to control who has access to guns and what kind of guns, we return to the common denominator of the COVID vaccine deniers: Republican men, which also largely means white men.
In 2019, Pew Research Center found that Republicans are nearly four times as likely as Democrats to say gun rights are more important than gun control (80% vs. 21%). Pew also found that men are more likely than women to say gun rights are more important than gun control (53% vs. 42%).
In the 2020 presidential election, 61% of white males voted Republican. In states where abortion restrictions are harsh, gun control tends to be lax. Those are states controlled by white Republican men.
And as Boot rightly points out, these are the same people who want to make it harder for average Americans to vote, which merely perpetuates the cycle.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a middle ground to be found between “they’re taking all our guns” on one hand and “I need this automatic weapon of mass destruction for my enjoyment” on the other.
“Republican legislators have bought the lie that gun control versus gun rights is a stark binary choice. It isn’t.”
Fueled by the NRA and its ilk, Republican legislators have bought the lie that gun control versus gun rights is a stark binary choice. It isn’t. There are ways to ban assault-style weapons that are so rapidly deadly while still allowing citizens to own suitable guns for hunting or even self-protection. There are sensible ways to improve background checks and waiting periods that would do no harm to people who intend to do no harm.
This is called “compromise,” which is not a bad word, even though McConnell and other Republican leaders have demonized the idea of giving even an inch.
Compromise on guns is necessary for public health and safety, just as it is for ending the coronavirus pandemic. Both are cases where the good of the whole outweighs the rights of the individual. Your right to have “fun” with a military-grade assault weapon you bought on your way to the gun range must yield to the greater need to stop mass murder. Just as your desire not to wear a mask or get a vaccine must yield to the greater need to stop a global pandemic that has killed millions.
Once again, we return to the wisdom of Jesus, who told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Loving our neighbors sometimes requires us to set aside personal wants to protect community needs. In this case, self-sacrifice is the best defense.
Mark Wingfield serves as executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global.
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