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Commentary & Opinion

Thoughts and prayers

Whenever there is a mass shooting in the United States - and the clock is ticking toward the next one - ritual theater follows to compound the anger and anguish with frustration.

Americans demand tougher gun laws to make it more difficult for someone to purchase an assault weapon, walk into a school, and slaughter 19 children and two teachers, as happened last month in Uvalde, Texas. Opponents of tougher gun measures offer their empty “thoughts and prayers,” then embark upon their familiar disinformation campaigns.

Representative Elise Stefanik of New York State, the third-ranking Republican in the U.S. House, is instructive in this regard. At a recent press conference in Albany, Stefanik said she remains a proponent of the Second Amendment, which in reference to gun rights refers to a “well-regulated” system. Yet she went on to express her opposition to gun control regulations.

Stefanik then called for increased mental health funding, a familiar Republican trope in these circumstances. There is no evidence that the United States has more mental illness than any other nation but it does have far more deadly gun violence by any measure. The U.S. has more than twice as many guns per capita as any other nation (war-torn Yemen is a distant second) according to the Swiss-based Small Arms Survey.

More specifically, the 18-year-old shooter in Uvalde had no history of mental health issues. Mental health funding would not have prevented the massacre at Robb Elementary School. A ban on assault weapons surely would have.

Stefanik and other Republicans want schools to have barricades, bulletproof glass windows, and more school resource officers. The shooter reportedly walked past a school resource officer in Uvalde and gained access to the school through a door that had been left ajar or unlocked. No such system - including moats around schools as has also been suggested - is foolproof.

In keeping with the concept of turning schools into armed camps, the political right wants teachers to be armed. These are largely the same people who are so distrustful of teachers that they berate them for supposedly teaching Critical Race Theory, which is not taught in schools, and in some states can sue teachers for instructing students about America’s uncomfortable history of racism. Yet they trust teachers to grab a weapon out of their desks and engage in a Wild West shootout with an armed invader. Underpaid and under siege, teachers don’t want to have to pack heat, nor should they.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” said National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre after 20 students and six teachers were massacred by a lone gunman in Newtown, Connecticut. Ten years later, this foolish and disingenuous trope was repeated by former President Trump at a recent NRA convention in Houston not far from heartsick Uvalde.

The lie was put to this trope last month in Buffalo, N.Y., where a security guard at Tops Friendly Markets shot an armed intruder. The bullet, however, did not penetrate the body armor of the shooter, who shot and killed the good guy with the gun, and then nine others, all of them Black. Plenty of good guys with guns milled around Robb Elementary, either too indecisive or afraid to confront the gunman until it was too late.

It is heartening that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul this week signed into law a new package of gun regulations, which among other welcome provisions raises the age requirement for the purchase of semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21. However, the ease in which guns can be purchased in states with poor or nonexistent gun laws and transported across state lines makes federal regulations necessary to fully address the nation’s gun sickness.

Tougher federal gun laws are backed by a majority of Americans but their will is blocked by minority Republicans who answer only to the gun lobby that lines their pockets with campaign donations. Breaking minority rule must be done at the ballot box, but with many states having passed laws restricting voting and enabling Republican lawmakers to meddle with voting results it will take a concerted effort to succeed. It is a necessary effort, however. The clock is ticking.

Bill Everhart is the former editorial page editor of The Berkshire Eagle and is an occasional Eagle contributor. 

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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