Another bloody weekend in America.
First, a shooter in Odessa, Texas, bought a new, unwelcome dimension to this nation’s mass shooting epidemic, mowing down pedestrians and drivers Saturday as he sped along a road firing his AR-15. Seven dead, 25 wounded, including a 17-month-old who may be forever disfigured after being shot in the face. Closer to home, the Minnesota State Fair’s fun-filled, record-breaking 12-day run was marred when gunfire broke outside its main gate just as it was wrapping up Monday, sending fairgoers and others running in terror. Three people were wounded.
Depressingly, predictably, little appears to be changing among lawmakers. President Donald Trump has become the face of cowardice, flip-flopping on earlier support for stronger background checks after talking with the NRA. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is no better. He has abandoned any leadership on this issue with a mighty punt, saying that if Trump first took a position, why, he would too.
And Texas, where 29 lost their lives to gunfire last month and nearly 50 were wounded? A day after the Odessa-Midland shootings, laws took effect that further loosened the state’s already lax gun restrictions.
In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz has said he is considering a special legislative session that would focus in part on gun reforms, and on Monday he renewed his call for action on universal background checks and red flag laws. So far, though, Senate Republicans have resolutely blocked attempts at even those modest reforms.
Meanwhile, there are some hopeful notes. Walmart, which had a mass shooting at its El Paso store last month that killed 22 people, announced Monday that it will stop selling all ammunition for handguns as well as certain ammunition that can be used in military-style assault rifles. It stopped selling assault rifles years ago and sold handguns only in Alaska, which it now will stop. To his credit, Walmart Chief Executive Doug McMillon said Monday the company needs to take further action to “make the country safer.”
McMillon, himself a gun owner, said in a statement that “It’s clear to us that the status quo is unacceptable.” The company also will ask customers to stop bringing firearms into stores, even in states where the practice is allowed, doubtless risking the ire of some. Those are moves are likely to cost the retailing giant right where it hurts: the bottom line. Walmart is so large that alone it accounts for 20% of U.S. ammunition sales.
The sacrifices are real and voluntary. The company may lose sales and customers. But it’s the right thing to do. It’s called leadership, and we need to see more of it from elected officials at every level of government.
Those who oppose even the most common-sense reforms are running out of arguments. They know that support among the public for reforms such as universal background checks is widespread and growing. They have tried to blame the rising death toll on mental health — despite evidence that the mentally ill are far more often victims than perpetrators — but even that is undercut by their unwillingness to fund expanded mental health programs or even basic research into gun violence causes and solutions.
Now there is word that U.S. Attorney General William Barr is working on a proposal that would create an expedited death penalty for mass shooters. Never mind that most of them die at the scene, seldom living to face trial. It’s a dodge, just another talking point that substitutes for real action.
The danger is everywhere now. Back-to-school shopping at a Walmart. Going to a nightclub. Walking down a busy street on a late summer day. Worshiping at church. Sitting in a classroom. Gazing at fireworks that mark the end of the beloved state fair. There is no place that can reliably be considered safe anymore.
We’re betting Americans will rebel soon against the kind of violence that makes them nervous about any public gathering. They will rise up and demand a recognition of their right to live without the fear of random gun violence that is virtually unknown in other countries.
Politicians have listened long enough to the likes of the NRA. It’s time to hear the millions of U.S. citizens demanding an end to this madness.