Articles and Opeds
Rep. Deutch Op-Ed: "Time to break NRA stranglehold on Congress"
Congressman Ted Deutch
Gathering on the House Floor to mark gun violence tragedies has become a common ritual. In the 477 days between the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando that left 49 dead and the Las Vegas shooting on Sunday that left 58 dead and over 500 injured there were 521 mass shootings in America.
So when, again and again and again, I bow my head and choke back tears, I can’t help but feel growing anger knowing that moments of silence are the beginning and end of the Congressional response to thousands of Americans being gunned down in the streets.
Offering “thoughts and prayers” without any substantive policy debate about how to reduce gun violence is part of a plan designed and implemented by the N.R.A. and the gun makers that fund it. The gun industry controls the Republican agenda on guns. It’s true in Washington and it’s true in Tallahassee where some of the most dangerous laws are rammed through.
It wasn’t always this way. It has been nearly thirty years since moderate Republicans joined most Democrats to pass the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. Even President Ronald Reagan, an N.R.A. member, ultimately supported the bill after leaving the White House. Since that time the N.R.A. has tightened its grip on the Republican Party.
Today’s N.R.A. is dominated by gun corporations, not its members, and it animates only the most extreme voices and policies. Their devotion to wealthy gun company executives leaves them with no reservations about spreading lies and promoting fear that gun safety advocates want to take away their guns.
This week’s tragedy highlighted the Republican go-to playbook on gun violence. After thoughts and prayers for the victims, GOP lawmakers first claimed that it is too soon to discuss solutions and later claimed nothing can be done to save lives.
Two N.R.A. A+ rated senators executed their roles perfectly. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) blamed so-called sanctuary cities in an attempt to scapegoat immigrants for a crime committed by a native-born American citizen.
Another GOP Senator, John Thune of South Dakota lamented that it is “hard to prevent anything.” He suggested that it would be the responsibility of victims to protect themselves and “get small.”
Did these Senators watch the video of the shooting? Did they hear the nine rounds per second raining down from the sky? “Get small” is not a solution. It’s cruel. His remarks make clear that the moral courage of gun industry-backed Republicans in Congress couldn’t get any smaller.
GOP obstruction is often paired with N.R.A. lies about the effectiveness of stronger gun laws. In fact, we can do something to make our communities safer. Other countries have done it. In Australia, a country with its own proud gun culture, a 1996 mass shooting inspired its legislature to get to work. They brokered compromises, they strengthened their laws, and they have successfully reduced gun violence (1.4 homicides per million people compared to 29.7 in the U.S.).
Congress could pass commonsense gun safety laws that would save lives and make our streets safer: reinstate the assault weapons ban, prevent modifications that enable simulated automatic fire, ban high capacity magazines, prohibit sales to known terrorists, and require universal background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those with mental illness.
Unfortunately, our urgent priority must be to block the current dangerous Ryan/McConnell/N.R.A. gun agenda. Grim priorities in Washington like legalizing over-the-counter sales of silencers and armor piercing bullets and forcing the recognition of out-of-state concealed carry permits must be stopped. In Tallahassee, bills allowing guns on our college campuses and open carry in our communities must also be stopped. Every one of these efforts, in Washington and Tallahassee, puts more people at risk.
Next, we must engage in a meaningful debate about any steps we can take to reduce gun violence. So far, Republicans have refused offers even to talk with Democrats. They continue their strategy of silence with the hope that people will stop caring about preventing gun deaths. We won’t.
We’ve already wasted too much time while innocent Americans have paid the price with their lives. It’s time to start a real conversation and break the stranglehold of the N.R.A. Someday soon, the tears and shouting of victims and their families will ring louder in the ears of Congressional and Tallahassee Republicans than the N.R.A.’s talking points.
Congressman Ted Deutch represents Florida's 22nd district, home to communities in southern Palm Beach County and Broward County.