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.

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 Veronique Pozner, the mother of 6-year-old Noah, who was killed in Newtown, took her cue from the mother of Emmett Till by allowing an open casket at her son’s wake. She was intent on showing how guns kill and the true horror of what that looks like. “His jaw was blown away,” she said in an interview. “I just want people to know the ugliness of it so we don’t talk about it abstractly, like these little angels just went to heaven. No. They were butchered. They were brutalized. And that is what haunts me at night.”

It seems that the carnage of gun violence has become so normative and commonplace that Americans are desensitized to its true nature. This allows the kind of complacency and callous disregard we see among the political and chattering classes in Washington. They offer prayers and empathetic gestures in place of policy and bold moral leadership.

So will this latest mass shooting change anything? It’s unlikely. The Republican Party appears committed to stalemate and obstruction as long as the first African-American president resides in the White House. That means that even commonsense measures on gun control are politicized. Debates about Second Amendment rights, the need to respect “law-abiding” gun owners and ramped-up fears of a national gun registry provide smokescreens for those who would rather see the status quo remain unchanged.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), a fierce advocate of gun control since the 2011 shooting death of his beloved nephew, spoke exclusively to The Root about this latest mass shooting and whether his colleagues have the political will to value people and policy over party and politics.

The Root: Congressman, you worked tirelessly earlier this year in an attempt to bring stricter gun control legislation to the floor of the House, and it failed due to a lack of majority support. What was your reaction to this latest mass shooting?

Elijah Cummings: I was very saddened. Every time something like that happens, it makes me deeply saddened. You know, we don’t have mass murders like this in Baltimore, but where I’m from in West Baltimore, we see a lot of senseless killings from gun violence. And my community is affected every day, the [same] way Chicago and Detroit [are], but it just doesn’t draw the attention of the media because our society has become used to it. As if that’s the way things are supposed to be.

TR: Do you think this incident, because it involved U.S. military personnel and occurred in the nation’s capital, will galvanize members of Congress to revisit gun control?

EC: As much as I want to be optimistic, if they didn’t do it after Newtown, I don’t know when they’ll do it. When you have 20 children … 20 innocent little kids being shot down at close range by an assault weapon and you choose to do nothing, then when will you act? I think it will be very difficult to get any meaningful legislation passed. And I hate to think this, but I’m beginning to realize it. [There was a time when] these things would happen, and the first reaction was to do something about it. When Newtown happened, that moment was impregnated with possibilities for reform.

TR: What is the issue holding them back? Is it that Republicans remain anti-Obama even when they agree with him? Or is it that certain members of Congress — both Republicans and Democrats — are beholden to the NRA?