Americans awoke Monday to the horror of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history — 59 dead and more than 500 wounded or injured in Las Vegas, in a toll that may still rise. The culprit? A 64-year-old American retiree with an arsenal that apparently included AR-15-style assault weapons, allowing him to lay down a carpet of gunfire on an unsuspecting crowd at a music festival.
What followed was yet another round of "thoughts and prayers" from the very politicians who have worked assiduously to weaken gun laws in this country, who daily ignore the will of the American people for the kind of common-sense restrictions that have made such massacres rare in other civilized nations. Every time a mass shooting occurs, the public is advised, as it was Monday, that now is a time for consoling survivors, not for taking action. They are cautioned against "politicizing" the tragedy of the moment. But who is politicizing such tragedies more than those who would limit public reaction to symbolic gestures while moving ahead with further concessions to the powerful gun lobby?
Make no mistake. We grieve for the dead, the wounded and those whose lives will be forever altered by the loss of friends and loved ones. We grieve as we did for Aurora, for Sandy Hook, for San Bernardino, for Orlando and the as-yet-unknown places that surely will be added to this grim roster if nothing is done.
A Congress that wanted to take action to limit future massacres would lift the ideologically driven ban on federal research into gun violence. It would pass universal background checks, now required in only nine states. It would not have, earlier this year, rolled back a common-sense regulation to restrict the sale of guns to those with mental illness.
Would those actions guarantee an end to mass shootings? No, but they would be a long overdue start. What once was rare has become commonplace, and the trajectory matches the weakening of this nation's gun laws. The gun lobby's arguments on the mythical "good guy with a gun" ring particularly hollow this time. Stephen Paddock reportedly armed himself with at least 23 weapons so powerful he could shoot across the distance of three football fields from 32 stories up and still rain down destruction. No "good guy with a gun" could have prevented that.
Incredibly, though its members are not talking about it right now, the GOP-led Congress is working on a further weakening of gun laws, with bills that would legalize the sale of armor-piercing bullets; make gun silencers — or "suppressors" — cheaper and easier to obtain; and create universal concealed carry, requiring all states to honor permits issued in other states, no matter their own laws. So much for "states' rights."
Go ahead and pray. America needs those prayers. But don't let it end there. Voice your opinion — even at the risk of being criticized for "politicizing a tragedy." No other nation is subjected so frequently to a mass slaughter of innocent lives absent a war. The incidents are coming faster now, and with higher death tolls.
That cannot be this great nation's fate. Act now, while the grief is fresh and the will strong.