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Settling for doing nothing about school shootings

So it has happened again – and you know what I’m talking about: children being slaughtered in school. To the list that includes Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, and so many more, add now the Covenant Christian School in Nashville.

Since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, there have been 376 school shootings in America; 348,000 students have experienced gun violence in their school, according to The Washington Post. (I have to cite a newspaper, because the government doesn’t keep tabs on school shootings.)

I promise that this won’t be only a rant about guns, because that without anything else may seem pointless – since, after all, Congress has made it clear that it won’t do anything meaningful about this tragedy. Or, to be clear and accurate – and this isn’t partisan, it’s just facts – the Republicans in Congress have made it clear that they won’t tolerate any meaningful gun reform.

Oh, there was a minor adjustment passed last year, when just enough Republicans voted for a bill adding modest curbs on gun sales, along with more funding for mental health and school security. Democrats called it a breakthrough, apparently because they’re so eager to be viewed as effective. But most Republicans in Congress opposed it, and the Texas Republican Party officially denounced their own senator, John Cornyn, for cosponsoring it. And Cornyn apparently got the message: After the Nashville shooting, he was asked what Congress could do to protect schoolchildren from guns, and he replied, “I would say we’ve gone about as far as we can go.”

Wow. Brave.

To be fair, Cornyn’s only being realistic, of course, because now Republicans control the House, and that makes doing anything to restrict guns all but impossible. It’s odd: Republicans are pretty aggressive these days about getting books out of schools that they consider dangerous. You know of any books that slaughter innocent children? For that matter, have you ever heard of a child being killed while attending a drag show? Republicans think it’s OK to use government power to ban drag shows and books – but not AR-15s?

But I’m getting away from the point, which is about how we’re settling for an intolerable status quo when it comes to gun violence. That’s even though most of us want tighter gun restrictions:

Almost six in 10 Americans want the government to restore the ban we used to have on semi-automatic weapons, like the AR-15. (That’s according to a nationwide poll last year.)

Three-quarters of us think nobody under age 21 should be able to buy a gun. 83 percent say people convicted of domestic violence should be barred from gun ownership. 85 percent say there should be a background check before any gun is sold.

But you can’t get any of that through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which is clearly beholden to its financial support from the gun industry. So we settle for being sad or angry about the latest losses, and then we move on.

It’s not just in the schools, of course. There’s a mass shooting – meaning four or more victims -- at least once a week now in this country. We have so lowered our expectations that we hardly notice.

We live, sadly enough, in the Age of Diminished Expectations. I was kind of proud of that phrase until I learned that the Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman wrote a book with that title 30-some years ago. It’s more true now than it was then. And, of course, it’s not just about our physical security in this gun-happy country.

Young adults can no longer expect to be more financially secure than their parents because of political choices that have rewarded the wealthy at the expense of America’s shrinking middle class. Most of us likewise can’t expect, as we once did, that we won’t be inundated by floods or scorched by drought, because we haven’t adequately fought human-induced climate change. We can’t expect full protection of equal rights for all our fellow citizens, thanks to the Trump-packed Supreme Court. And we surely can’t expect anymore, as we once did, that our political leaders will behave with fairness and decency, because so many of our fellow citizens are seduced by shameless demagogues willing to sacrifice democracy for power that there’s little to gain by displays of good character in politics.

In that regard, let us note that when the question of gun violence came up at last week’s regular press briefing by the House Republican majority, the response of Majority Leader Steve Scalise to the question of what Congress could do was to urge us to pray. The member of Congress who represents me, Elise Stefanik, was standing at his side, stalwart in her support for doing damn near nothing, as Scalise said that talk by Democrats about restricting guns to save schoolchildren amounted to, in his words, “people trying to politicize it for their own personal agenda.”

My personal agenda in this matter is to protect innocent children from harm. How about you? I’ll talk more in next week’s commentary about the tragedy of lowered expectations in America. For now, let’s be clear on what’s standing in the way of the gun control that most Americans support: It’s politics, and it’s up to us, and our votes, to change things if we can’t tolerate that status quo.

Rex Smith, the co-host of The Media Project on WAMC, is the former editor of the Times Union of Albany and The Record in Troy. His weekly digital report, The Upstate American, is published by Substack.

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

Rex Smith, the co-host of The Media Project on WAMC, is the former editor of the Times Union of Albany and The Record in Troy. His weekly digital report, The Upstate American, is published by Substack."
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