Boulder shooting: Senators have no excuse for inaction on guns. Tell them to save lives.

After every mass shooting in America, there are four distinct stages of grief: horror and revulsion, compassion for the families of the victims, anger that these tragedies keep happening, and finally, despair that Washington will do anything to stop this unending carnage. 

When 20 first graders were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, many Americans thought, now is the time for Congress to finally pass gun control legislation. But nothing happened.

After Charleston, Orlando, San Bernardino, Las Vegas, Parkland, El Paso and so many other mass shootings, the cycle continued. But after shootings in Atlanta and now Boulder, this time can and must be different. America needs action — not more despair.

The House passed two gun bills earlier this month. One would expand and strengthen federal background checks on all gun purchases. The other would close the so-called “Charleston loophole,” which allowed the gunman who massacred nine people at the AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, to purchase a firearm.

Democrats must take charge on guns 

This legislation has near-universal popular backing. Ninety-two percent of Americans support requiring background checks for all gun sales. Only 7% oppose it, which is less than the number of Americans who believe the moon landing was faked. In an era of intense polarization, this is close as America gets to unanimity on any single policy issue.

Yet, as these bills move through the Senate, because of the 60-vote requirement of the Senate filibuster, they could die without ever being voted on. This is precisely what happened in 2013, when a majority of senators, including four Republicans, voted in support of background checks. Their 54 votes were not enough, however, to overcome a filibuster. 

Boulder shooting: Another gunman used an AR-15-style rifle to kill. Why are they still legal?

It does not have to be this way. With the Congress and White House controlled by a Democratic Party that is fully supporting gun control efforts, now is the time for the Senate to have an up-and-down vote on gun laws that could actually save lives.

Background checks are not a panacea for stopping the daily carnage of gun violence in America, which takes an estimated 40,000 lives every year. But as Shannon Watts, the founder of the gun safety group Moms Demand Action, told me, “background checks are the most effective way to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and, ultimately, to decrease gun violence. They’re the foundation of a holistic gun safety system.”

A makeshift memorial outside the King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, on March 23, 2021, a day after 10 people were killed there. (Photo: Michael Ciaglo)

The record on state background check laws shows that they decrease gun-related homicides and suicides (though some studies have questioned their effectiveness). Other research has found that background checks are even more effective when combined with other gun safety legislation, like licensing requirements and minimum age restrictions.

In an ideal world, Congress would enact a package of measures, including a ban on assault weapons (which President Joe Biden endorsed on Tuesday) or waiting periods to purchase guns. But, this is no time to make perfection the enemy of the good — and it’s certainly no time to accept more foot-dragging from Washington.

Gabby Giffords on Boulder: Listen to Biden. Pass new laws to stop gun violence. It’s not too late to change America.

Both President Biden and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the main opponent of filibuster reform in the Democratic caucus, have called for the Senate to return to a talking filibuster and require senators to actually debate legislation. Requiring Republican senators to explain why they oppose a policy supported by 9 out of 10 Americans would be a good starting point for that reform. 

Manchin, of all senators, should be supportive. He and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey were co-sponsors of the background check bill that was killed by the filibuster in 2013. Is Manchin going to again allow a minority of senators to block his own legislation?

Save lifes, not the filibusterlized

But an issue as important as this cannot rely on the decisions of one senator.

Americans need to be the catalysts for change. Reach out to your members of Congress. Call your senators. Demand that they let this debate go forward and the will of the majority be heard.

For too long, we have become inured to senseless and preventable gun violence. We’ve learned to live with our children being forced to participate in traumatizing active shooter drills — and have accepted that randomly being killed while shopping at the grocery store, attending a concert, or going to a holiday party is the price we pay for living in America. The horrific has become normalized. 

Too many of our fellow citizens have died in vain from the scourge of gun violence. It’s long overdue that we demand our political leaders do something about it.

Michael A. Cohen writes the newsletter Truth and Consequences. A former columnist for the Boston Globe, he is co-author of “Clear and Present Safety: The World Has Never Been Better and Why That Matters to Americans” and author of “American Maelstrom: The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division.” Follow him on Twitter: @speechboy71

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