Demonstrators hold placards at a rally against gun violence in the United States. Reuters
Rekha Basu, Tribune News Service
On March 15, 22-year-old Eden Montang of Ames, Iowa, made an Instagram post about red flags, a topic that, uncannily, is now being debated in Congress. “Stop treating red flags as challenges instead of warning signs,” she wrote, framing it as “Unsolicited relationship advice.”
Most likely, although she didn’t name Johnathan Whitlatch, it was advice gleaned from her own relationship with the man who authorities say killed her June 2, less than three months later.
Montang, a graduate of Boone High School and a senior in Iowa State University’s College of Human Sciences who worked with the Iowa National Guard, was shot to death outside Cornerstone Church in Ames. She and her 21-year-old friend Vivian Flores were going there for a service. Authorities named Whitlatch, who had been abusive toward her and with whom she had broken up, for both deaths as well as his own.
Every month, an average of 70 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner in America. Every day, 111 people are killed with guns.
Had there actually been a red flag law in place, a minimal step the federal government could take to prevent such future carnage, maybe all three lives could have been saved. But one of Montang’s senators, Iowa Republican Joni Ernst, won’t support one. She has called red flag laws unfair for targeting people over a feeling.
Two things are worth noting about that. One, Ernst has never expressed as much concern over Black motorists being too frequently stopped and pulled over by police over a mere feeling (also known as racial profiling). And two, the National Rifle Association has spent $3.68 million on her behalf since her first run for federal office in 2014, putting her in the top five among beneficiaries in office.
On Wednesday, the Democratic-majority US House passed the Protecting Our Kids Act, which would, among other things, raise the minimum age to purchase an assault rifle to 21, bar the sale of large-capacity magazines and institute new rules on appropriate gun storage at home and on guns without a serial number.
But the Senate isn’t expected to follow suit because Democrats hold only 50 seats and it would take 60 votes to pass. Democrats overwhelmingly (91%) want more restrictive gun laws, but only 24% of Republicans do, according to a Gallup poll.
And the Republicans win on this every time. With such NRA vote-buying abilities, don’t hold your breath for any meaningful gun reforms to pass.
So instead, senators are negotiating over background checks on gun-buyers and red flag laws. Those would allow people who suspect a particular weapon-owner is a threat to themselves or the public to file a court petition to seize their weapons for a set amount of time.
The Ames shootings, coming on the heels of the mass shootings of schoolchildren in Uvalde, Texas, and grocery shoppers in Buffalo, New York, have a chorus of Americans crying “Enough is Enough!” Uvalde and Buffalo were among at least 232 shootings just this year in which four or more people were killed or injured, according to The Gun Violence Archive.
But such cries for tougher gun measures after each horrific new round have gone unanswered. And that’s even though 89% of people support background checks for all gun purchases, including private and gun show sales; 86% back “red flag” laws; 60% want to ban high-capacity magazines; 56% would ban assault weapons sales and 52% support mandatory assault weapon buyback programs.
On Wednesday, all but five House Republicans voted against the Protecting Our Kids Act. There’s a financial incentive. Just research NRA contributions and look up the names of the Republican politicians opposing such legislation.
Listening to some of the arguments against the bill, you could almost see the favor being repaid.
Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, who has taken over $12,376 from the NRA, called the Uvalde shootings “an evil act” but warned that “no one should weaponize or politicize the abhorrent acts” or allow emotions to drive our actions because “constitutional rights are the ones that transcend evil deeds.”
Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia, who has taken $12,964 in NRA money, said there are moral absolutes, which include respecting one another, respecting life and embracing religious beliefs. He said the acts of violence are a reflection of a moral and spiritual crisis in this country.
Rep. Pat Fallon of Texas ($11,323) called the Uvalde shooter “a troubled, evil coward” and said it’s natural to want to assign blame. But, he said, some people were wrongly blaming guns, the Constitution or “a political party.”
He also talked about a breakdown in the family and faith and a problem with antisocial media and “these dang cellphones.” Fallon said mass shootings are not committed by well-adjusted, socially established people.”
Rep. Fred Keller of Pennsylvania ($12,893) noted a “devastating” shooting in Pennsylvania this month and said, “We all should offer prayers to the families that have been affected across commonwealth and nation.” And he contended that crime is rising in cities with the most restrictive firearm laws.
Rep. James Comer of Kentucky ($21,791) declared that all criminals should be in jail.
There was also talk about locking school doors and arming teachers.
In his speech a week before, President Joe Biden called for an assault-weapons ban, expanded background checks and red flag laws. But he pointed out that the majority of Senate Republicans don’t want any of these proposals even to be debated, much less voted on.
After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, Students Demand Action became active. “Sometimes it takes a huge tragedy like the Parkland shooting to open people’s eyes, wake them up and motivate them,” said a gun-violence survivor, 17-year-old Julia Spoor, then. “But I think we have that right now.”
She was quoted in Michelle Roehm McCann’s 2019 book “Enough Is Enough.”
But since 2018, there have been 119 school shootings in the U.S. Guns are now the single largest cause of death for teenagers and young adults.
It’s as if America’s being held hostage by a foreign power that’s shooting 117,345 of our people every year and killing 111 every day with guns. But the majority of citizens and the president can’t do anything to stop it as long as there are enough holdouts in Congress.
In 2016 the NRA spent a record — more than $419 million — to, among other things, get Donald Trump and Republicans elected to the U.S. House and Senate. The money was also spent on legislative programs and public affairs, according to an audit obtained and shared by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley has benefited from over $224,937 of NRA spending and has a current campaign ad boasting of having its endorsement, along with Donald Trump’s and more. That prompted the nonprofit group Progress Iowa to call on Grassley on Monday to take it down. But I say let him leave it up. Iowans and the nation should see the senator’s true priorities.
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