President Donald Trump is in no hurry to do anything proactive to combat mass shootings, in spite of the fact that two of the five worst mass shooting events in modern history occurred within the past six weeks.
When asked whether he would employ “extreme vetting” on gun buyers — borrowing a phrase from Trump’s immigration stances — the president indicated that he didn’t think tougher gun laws would do much good.
“Well, you know, you're bringing up a situation that probably shouldn't be discussed too much right now. We could let a little time go by," Trump told reporters.
But he went on:
"If you did what you're suggesting, there would have been no difference three days ago. And you might not have had that very brave person who happened to have a gun or a rifle in his truck go out and shoot him, and hit him, and neutralize him. And I can only say this: If he didn’t have a gun, instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead.”
Trump’s initial reluctance to answer the question mirrors what many pro-gun politicians often say: that it’s “too soon” to discuss gun violence and ways to combat it. They never seem to have an answer, however, on when is the right time to have a debate about gun control.
But his second assertion deserves scrutiny, too. We know that stricter gun laws work — we can see as much within this recent shooting itself, and note that had the background check system functioned properly, it could have prevented the carnage we saw this past Sunday. It was loose enforcement of the law that led to what happened.
We should also disregard the assertion that two men who chased down the suspect stopped the attack. They should be commended for stopping a killer from escaping, but by the time they saw what was happening, the damage was already done.
Looser gun laws don’t make things safer, contrary to what failed theories from the past have suggested, and concealed carry rarely, if ever, stops a mass shooting event. It can sometimes complicate things further by creating more chaos during an already chaotic event.
Stricter gun laws, on the other hand, are provable ways to prevent gun violence. Devin Kelley was able to get a gun because the Air Force neglected to report him to the FBI after a domestic dispute and a dishonorable discharge. But he could have easily gotten a gun still through the “gun show loophole,” which allows sellers to put their guns up for sale at gun shows without needing a background check from buyers.
States that have closed this loophole have seen dramatically lower rates of gun-specific homicides. If implemented nationally, it could prevent even more deaths.
We should also note that assault weapon bans have worked to dramatically reduce the severity of mass shootings in the past. None of the 10 most devastating shooting events with the highest casualty counts occurred during the 1994-2004 ban.
While mass shootings still are possible with gun bans (they generally don’t require turning in weapons but prevent the future sale of prohibited guns), it does seem like a viable option for preventing events like these with an incredibly high number of deaths from happening down the road.
Trump is ignorant of the data, perhaps willfully so, because it helped him get campaign dollars from the gun lobby last year and will probably help him in the years ahead. But the evidence suggests that strict gun laws could help prevent tragedies like these in the future, no matter how much Trump wants to brush aside that idea.
We need leaders who are willing to recognize the rights inherent in the Second Amendment, but who also note that no right is without its own limits. A robust debate on gun control is desperately needed. And politicians who say otherwise are disregarding their constituents' wishes, favoring a campaign check instead.