August 2019 in Texas began with a mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart and ended with gunfire on a highway near Odessa. The gun violence epidemic has grown because of increasingly partisan politics.
Seven people died last Saturday. Another 25 were injured, including a 17-month-old girl. Just last month, 53 people were killed in mass shootings. This number does not include those who were shot because of gang violence or other isolated gun deaths.
The gun violence epidemic is uniquely American. We created it and our lack of compromise allows it to flourish. Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as his contenders, remarked on the Odessa shooting. In his comments, he strayed from his usual campaign promise of restoring bipartisanship.
The fight for stronger gun safety legislation is frustrating. It often seems hopeless and unattainable. This is because people like Biden keep pushing the idea that no Republican will ever support bills that strengthen background checks or other safety measures.
While Biden may have meant that compromise with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is impossible, his comments still over-generalize the Republican party. Two of August’s three mass shootings occurred in Texas, a state that has turned red every election night since 1980. It is hard to imagine no Texas Republicans were so shaken by the events that they changed their opinions on guns.
Republicans Can Change Their Opinions
Although the Republican party platform may be to protect the 2nd Amendment, what that looks like will differ from politician to politician. Their party is correct in pushing for the rights of responsible gun owners. The chances of the 2nd Amendment being abolished is slim. Many Americans have rifles for hunting. However, there is absolutely no need for a civilian to have an assault weapon.
Comments like Biden’s are dangerous. They keep our nation divided because they do not allow the idea that compromise is possible to exist. However, history shows us that not all Republicans are averse to gun restrictions.
Following the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, bump stocks became heavily scrutinized. The simple attachment turns semi-automatic rifles into essentially automatic ones and made it possible for the shooter to kill 58 people. Hundreds more were injured that night because of the device.
The federal ban on bump stocks officially happened after a US Justice Department ruling determining that the attachments were included in a federal ban on fully automatic weapons. The solution was not achieved through legislation. However, some Republicans were beginning to signal that they were open to banning bump stocks.
The Republican party as a whole never supported the ban. But it would be wrong to say that every Republican in the US Senate or House supported the sale of bump stocks. The constant blame on every single Republican ever for gun violence will ultimately do nothing for the country.
The belief that Republicans are unwilling to compromise on gun legislation is false. It is deadly because it keeps the mass shooting cycle from being broken. Saying that compromise is not possible is ignoring the fact that several Republicans have publicly stated their support for specific legislation.
Sen. McConnell may not want to discuss the red-flag legislation that is working its way through Congress. The Republican party establishment will also shy away from red-flag bills being brought up. That did not stop Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) from backing them and other gun restriction measures after the mass shooting in Dayton, the city he represents.
The American Public Wants Change
Washington D.C. often makes America seem much more divided than it is. In order to stay in office, politicians may continue to support more extreme opinions. Yet the country is not as split between partisan lines as the Senate or House. Republican voters are not as anti-gun safety legislation as either party establishments believe them to be.
Public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans view gun violence as an issue and want to solve it. A Quinnipiac poll from May said 61 percent of Americans support more restrictive gun legislation. That same poll said that 91 percent of Democrats believed gun laws should be tighter and 32 percent of Republicans thought the same.
Where support becomes closer is individual legislation, including universal background checks. A July poll from NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist found that 89 percent of those surveyed supported background checks, specifically at private and public gun shows. The number of Republicans who supported that idea was only five percentage points below the final average.
Even among Trump voters, support for stronger gun safety measures is rising. Following the back-to-back shootings in El Paso and Dayton exactly a month ago, a Fox News poll suggested that the president’s base is more afraid of a mass shooting than a terrorist threat. This does not mean mass shootings are not a form of terrorism. Many are actually acts of domestic terrorism.
Ninety percent of Trump voters polled by Fox said they support universal background checks. It is arguably the simplest and most popular form of gun restriction. Every Democratic candidate should be pushing for it to be implemented, as it is unlikely the president will cross the NRA and the GOP establishment.
The increasing partisanship of Washington has killed all major legislative change regarding gun safety. The belief that Republicans cannot change and must be voted out ultimately hurts the nation. In the 14 months before the next federal election, we can implement many new laws to counteract the mass shooting epidemic. If we wait that long to vote out Republicans, however, the nation is deciding that the lives of the next mass shooting victims is not worth the hard work. The likelihood of another mass shooting before Election Day 2020 is very strong.