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McDermott: ‘Thoughts and prayers’ for some gun sanity

McDermott: ‘Thoughts and prayers’ for some gun sanity


Ted Cruz is furious. What is the Republican Texas senator so mad about? Is it that 18 people were recently killed in two separate mass shootings within days of each other? Is it that the shooters were able to lay their hands on their murder weapons as easily as if they were buying socks? Is it that America has a higher per-capita death rate from firearms than any other advanced country in the world?

No, what has Cruz so peeved is that Republicans who have enabled this bloodshed — and who for years have slithered out of their responsibility for it by offering “thoughts and prayers” to the victims — are now being called out by the many Americans who finally recognize that phrase as the tone-deaf self-parody that it is.

Thoughts and prayers. It was a nice, pious, politically painless way for conservatives to look like they were addressing the tragedies even as they blocked common-sense gun reform and cashed the National Rifle Association’s checks. And now, because too many of us are too jaded by the violence, they can’t lean on that phrase anymore.

Except Cruz. “I don’t apologize for thoughts or prayers,” he defiantly declared last week, as America pondered the latest body counts out of Georgia and Colorado. “I will lift up in prayer people who are hurting and I believe in the power of prayer, and the contempt of Democrats for prayers is an odd sociological thing.”

No, senator, the odd sociological thing is your party’s willingness to sacrifice tens of thousands of American lives every year on the NRA’s altar. The odd sociological thing is your contempt for even the most common-sense restrictions on weapons of mayhem. The odd sociological thing is your delusional belief that America’s unrivaled stockpile of firearms in civilian hands — more guns than people — has no relation to our unrivaled status as the world’s epicenter for mass shootings.

Cruz angrily insists that the focus should be on prosecuting felons who try to purchase guns. Good point. But how does the government even know when felons try to buy guns? Because if they try to buy through federally licensed dealers, a criminal background check is required on the sale. Makes sense, right?

Luckily for felons, though, federal law doesn’t currently require background checks for private sales through non-licensed dealers. States can impose such a requirement, but red states generally don’t. So in Missouri, for example, a felon who wants to avoid a background check can just buy his gun from an unlicensed dealer at a gun show, or from a neighbor over the fence, or from a stranger in an alley, and the seller has no legal responsibility to make sure the buyer isn’t a felon.

A national requirement for background checks on all gun purchases would close that loophole and outlaw blind sales everywhere. Yet Ted “stop the felons from buying guns” Cruz opposes universal background checks.

Talk about an “odd sociological thing.” Sen. Jekyll, have you consulted with Sen. Hyde on this?

Let’s review what apparently didn’t make Cruz as angry as the fact that his “thoughts and prayers” routine is now widely viewed as a sick punchline:

On March 16, a 21-year-old man in the Atlanta area who was reportedly upset at having been kicked out of his parents’ home the night before bought a 9mm semi-automatic pistol and, within hours, had killed eight people at three different spas. Unlike a handful of states that have “cooling off” waiting periods for gun purchases, Georgia lets distraught buyers immediately walk out with their firearms and get right down to business.

Less than a week later, on Monday, another disturbed 21-year-old opened fire in a Boulder, Colorado, store, killing 10. Six days earlier, he’d bought a Ruger AR-556 semiautomatic pistol, essentially a shorter version of the AR-15 style rifles so popular with mass shooters. It’s unclear at this writing where he bought it, but just days before, a judge invalidated a local ordinance that would have outlawed the purchase of such a weapon in Boulder.

Let’s be clear: Cruz and his fellow shills for the gun industry are not reflecting the will of the American people, or even a majority of gun owners, by refusing to allow sane national gun policy. They’re reflecting the will of the gun lobby and the most extremist elements of their political base. That base is a minority but it speaks loudly in GOP primaries. So rational, potentially life-saving reforms that poll after poll after poll show most Americans support — universal background checks, waiting periods, restrictions on military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines — get shot down.

But hey, it’s not like Republicans are doing nothing for the victims. They’re offering thoughts and prayers.

The Second Amendment doesn’t require this lunacy. As the late Supreme Court justice and gun-rights icon Antonin Scalia himself wrote, the amendment doesn’t create a right “to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

It isn’t the Constitution enabling these killings. It’s a political party that calls itself “law and order” and “pro-life,” and then makes a mockery of both phrases with its fanatical stance on guns.

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