Our nation’s leaders are experts in first responses to mass shootings — tweets, e-mailed statements and sound bites decrying the mayhem and thanking law enforcement for their heroism.
Those same leaders fail miserably with the bigger challenge — following through with meaningful, sustained legislative responses that inspire confidence that something, anything, is being done to prevent more bloodshed.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board has made gun violence a major focus since that horrible 2012 day at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We’ve repeatedly argued for expanded background checks and other sensible gun law reform after attacks such as those that left a total of 31 dead and 50 injured over the weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
Last year, a series of editorials emphasized school safety, urging state and national leaders to listen to the pleas from our school kids after the Parkland, Fla., mass shooting to do more to keep them safe while they learn. But you’d also like to think they could shop for school supplies at a Walmart in Texas or stroll through an entertainment district on a summer night in Ohio without dodging bullets.
The attacks in El Paso and Dayton were the 21st and 22nd mass shootings (four or more people killed, not including the shooter) in the U.S. in 2019, according to the AP/USA Today/Northeastern University mass murder database. Those 22 shootings have left 127 people dead.
The same national discussion has followed each of those shootings, with fingers of blame pointed in many directions. Lax gun laws. Racism. Xenophobia. Inflamed political rhetoric. White supremacy. Mental illness. Bullying. The dark web. Pervasive violence in popular culture, including in video games. It’s a long and growing list because there are myriad reasons why mass shootings keep happening — and because each attack is different.
And sometimes because there’s no obvious reason at all. The FBI couldn’t find a “single or clear motivating factor” driving the man who killed 58 concertgoers and injured nearly 1,000 during an 11-minute shooting spree in Las Vegas in 2017.
The complexity of the gun violence problem in America suggests we need more data, research and analysis — the kind the entire country would be demanding in the event of an infectious disease outbreak.
Instead, Congress buckled to the gun lobby and effectively halted federal spending on research in 1996 with passage of the Dickey Amendment, which prohibited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using federal funds intended for injury prevention to advocate for gun control. Last year, however, Congress passed clarifying language that said the CDC could resume research as long as it wasn’t lobbying for gun control.
That clarification won’t mean anything if the effort lacks funding — a situation House Democrats have tried to remedy. In June, the House passed an appropriations bill that would provide $50 million for gun injury and mortality prevention research — $25 million for the CDC and $25 million for the National Institutes of Health.
If, as expected, the Republican-controlled Senate is unable to stop kowtowing to the National Rifle Association long enough to pass the background check bill approved by the House in February, it should at least be able to support funding for research that could lead to more effective prevention strategies.
Americans deserve more than thoughts, prayers and best guesses.
Opinion editor’s note: This editorial is adapted from Thursday’s edition of the daily Star Tribune Opinion e-mail newsletter. To sign up for the newsletter, which highlights the best of editorial and commentary and notes from editorial page editor Scott Gillespie, go to bit.ly/OpinionNewsletter.