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Bill Straub: Deja Vu all over again — gun massacres, promise of controls, then nothing; repeat rapid fire

All right, let’s break this one down to its component parts.

On the morning of Aug. 3, a gunman, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, shot and killed 22 people and injured 24 others in El Paso, TX. About 13 hours later, in Dayton, OH, a second gunman shot and killed 10 people and injured 17 others.

The incidents brought to 251 the number of mass shootings that have occurred in the United States of America this year. In the aftermath, it was suggested by those left aghast by the carnage that the federal government might want to take further steps to at least cut down on the possibility of such tragedies occurring over and over again Most anti-gun violence advocates suggested, among other things, strengthening the system of background checks before an individual is allowed to purchase a firearm.

President Trump, aka President Extremely Stable Genius, seemed to agree, asserting in a Tweet, his favored form of communication, “We cannot let those killed in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, die in vain. Likewise for those so seriously wounded. We can never forget them, and those many who came before them. Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks…”

Sen. Mitch McConnell

Even Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch” McConnell, of Louisville, who blanches at the very thought of crossing the National Rifle Association, that gun-loving institution that holds the deed on the Republican Party, publicly stated that the chamber should consider tougher background checks and so-called Red Flag laws that would prohibit those with serious psychological problems from possessing guns.

“Background checks and red flags will probably lead the discussion,” McConnell told WHAS-AM in Louisville, adding, “there’s a lot of support” for background checks and noting, “Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass.”

“What we can’t do is fail to pass something,” McConnell said. “What I want to see here is an outcome.”

As is usual in the ongoing gun debate, that was then, this is now.

Our Extreme Stable Genius (ESG) is toning down the background check rhetoric. Earlier this week he pointedly noted, “Background checks — I will say that for the most part, sadly, if you look at the last four or five, going back even five or six or seven years — for the most part, as strong as you make your background checks, they would not have stopped any of it.”

And for his part, after insisting “what we can’t do is fail to pass something,” McConnell, that brave lad, now states he won’t call for a vote on any legislation Trump won’t sign, even though Congress has the ability to override any presidential veto.

To quote Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Have we heard this story before? Dozens of times. Remember back in 2012 when Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CN, and slaughtered 26 people, including 20 babies between the ages six and seven? By god, we were going to do something about it.

Then nothing. And it’s true of all the other times – Newtown, Parkland, Las Vegas.

Empty promises.


This story, however, suddenly gets a little more complicated. On Aug. 31, Seth Aaron Ator, described as being on “a long spiral down,” shot and killed seven people and injured at least 25 others during a rampage that ranged from Midland to Odessa, TX.

Ator, it now seems, couldn’t pass a background check because he was considered a “prohibited person.” He therefore was barred from purchasing a gun at a dealership because he was considered mentally ill.

“The background check was run through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System,” said John Wester, a special agent for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “The NIC system did work. He applied to get a gun. He was denied a gun.”

But because of a loophole in the law – one that gun control advocates have spent years trying to close – Ator was able to purchase an assault-style weapon from a private firearms seller who, unlike licensed gun dealers, was not required to run background checks or even ask potential buyers if they are permitted to own weapons.

So it appears, in this case, at least, toughening background checks and extending them to private sellers could have avoided a tragedy.

But it won’t make any difference. The gun nuts have tugged at ESG’s ear and told him he can’t support strengthening background checks because they don’t want him to.

McConnell, also known as Massacre Mitch because of his propensity for bottling up gun control legislation, can play along by gutlessly pointing to the president’s opposition and whining there’s nothing he can do about it.

What Massacre Mitch won’t tell you is that members of his caucus really don’t want to vote on any extension of background checks for fear it will hurt them at the polls. Burying a bill will save them the heartache of doing their jobs, also known as voting.

CNBC reported in August that the NRA spent $1.6 million during the first half of the year lobbying members of the House and Senate against laws that would enact stricter background checks. The House actually passed a measure Massacre Mitch has been blocking. According to Giffords, a gun safety advocacy group named after former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-AZ, whose congressional career was cut short as a result of a shooting, that bill would “require a background check on every gun sale or transfer, with carefully defined exceptions for gifts to family members, hunting, target shooting, and self-defense.”

It would also “require unlicensed gun sellers to utilize this same system by requiring them to sell or transfer firearms only through licensed dealers.”

So it’s there.

Congress and the president could act. They – meaning Mitch — just don’t want to.

It’s a sad situation, rendered even sadder by the fact that tightening background checks is the least Congress can do. There’s reinstituting the ban on assault weapons or limiting large capacity magazines, both of which would limit the slaughter.

And McConnell is one of the primary reasons. He has made a career of sending gun control legislation to the graveyard. He has, after all, consistently received an “A” rating from the NRA and more than $1.2 million in campaign contributions from the gun folks throughout his political career.

Massacre Mitch has, in an effort to be a comedian, something for which he is particularly ill-suited, embraced the nickname “The Grim Reaper.” His do-nothing approach to gun control gives that title a whole new meaning.

KyForward’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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