Gun Control: If Not Now, When?

Rep. Elijah Cummings criticizes the GOP for its roadblocks and lack of action in the wake of mass shootings.

(The Root) — This week in the nation’s capital, 12 innocent people were massacred as a crazed gunman used a Remington 12-gauge shotgun to rain down terror upon a lobby of unsuspecting Navy yard employees who were having breakfast and beginning their day.

This is the face of freedom and Second Amendment rights in America’s “democratic” society.

Last year, after the slaughter of 20 first-graders in Newtown, Conn., it seemed that the political winds had changed. President Barack Obama called for Congress to pass stricter gun control legislation in response to what was universally condemned as an unconscionable act of domestic terror. Reasonable minds on both the left and right of the political spectrum agreed that the proliferation of guns — and semi-automatic weapons in particular — had become a metastasizing disease rapidly deteriorating the country’s social fabric and undermining its social contract.

For what is the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness if the right to destroy life is equally protected?

Aaron Alexis, the 34-year-old identified as the shooter in Monday’s assault, legally purchased the gun and ammunition he used in the attack. This was despite his having been arrested and cited for violent gun-related crimes in 2004 and 2010. Alexis was a former Navy Reserve officer with a documented history of mental illness. And the Associated Press reports that he suffered from various mental-health problems, including paranoia, sleep disorders and hearing voices. Yet Alexis gained employment with a federal contractor at the Navy yard and was apparently unimpeded in his purchase of firearms.

The cognitive dissonance inherent in these facts is what drives so many gun control advocates to cry foul on a Congress seemingly held hostage by the National Rifle Association and gun-manufacturing lobby. It simply makes no sense.

Reasonable gun control measures, like those President Obama proposed after the Newtown massacre, might have helped prevent this kind of incident. Yet even with a 54-46 bipartisan vote in the U.S. Senate in April, a watered-down background-check bill failed to meet the filibuster-proof 60-vote threshold. Even if it had, the measure was all but dead on arrival in the House of Representatives, which remains beholden to the radical, far-right wing of the Republican Party.

Though violent-crime rates have declined precipitously since the 1990s, there is one curious fact that belies the statistics: Mass shootings have occurred at an average rate of one per month since 2009. And though assault weapons are used in a minority of mass shootings, the incidents in which they are used are much deadlier.