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Why The Texas Church Attack Is ABSOLUTELY A Gun Issue

Why The Texas Church Attack Is ABSOLUTELY A Gun Issue

The morning following what is being described as the deadliest mass shooting in Texas, 45 declared: "This isn't a guns situation...[t]his is a mental health problem at the highest level."  While mental health is a serious issue and one that needs to be addressed, the president's statement is just plain wrong.  In Trump's mind and the mind of so many others, a 26 year old white male who walks in a church and shoots worshipers must be deranged and mentally ill.  While this view may be accurate, it is incomplete at best.  

The fundamental problem with concluding the narrative with a description of the shooter's mental health is that it ignores the fact that a man who may have been driven by mental illness had access to an assault rifle in the first place. 

Let me pause here and address another issue with the president's perspective on this incident and the one in Las Vegas, quite frankly.   No one, including the President, really knows whether this person or the shooter in Las Vegas was mentally ill or not.  Nothing has indicated that fact yet. All we know about the Texas shooter is that he was court-martialed for an assault on his wife and child and had his Air Force rank reduced.  Now maybe he was mentally ill, but if that's the only fact people are using to determine whether the mentally-ill descriptor fits, that's just not enough.  His assault on his wife doesn't prove that he was mentally ill, it just proves that he was an asshole.  

"Mentally ill" is how people describe cold blooded killers who look like the Texas and Las Vegas shooters when they just can't quite put their finger on why a non-brown person would do such a thing - "it must be because he's mentally ill."  Well isn't that convenient. 

Let me be clear - I am not minimizing the mental health issue, because it is important.  But I find it ironic that 45 is now singing the mental health tune when it was his administration that in February 2017 reversed an Obama-era law that required the Social Security Administration to report people who receive disability benefits and have a mental health condition to the FBI’s background check system which is used to determine eligibility for buying a firearm.  So if this is a mental health issue as the president says it is, how are you planning to address that, and are you going to give any reconsideration to whether people who are mentally ill should have access to these types of weapons?  You're not, so I'll move on.

The real danger in throwing around the "mentally ill" moniker is that it does no more than take the focus off of the real issue and that is the availability of the type of weapons used in Texas and Las Vegas.  Let me say this: I've read the Second Amendment.  It lacks grammatical accuracy and is confusing at best.  But for most of this country's history, the right to bear arms was not an individual right but one assigned to a "well regulated militia."  The NRA politicized the issue in the late 1970s and offered its own re-interpretation of the Amendment that gave rise to decades of arguments, culminated in the 2008 Columbia v. Heller opinion, and has fueled the current arguments that we hear from both sides of the aisle today.  While the Heller opinion deems it unconstitutional for a state (or the District of Columbia in that case) to prohibit individuals from having handguns for self-defense purposes, the Second Amendment right described by the majority in Heller is not absolute, and the Court even left room for gun control laws that were "presumptively lawful." 

And that brings us full circle back to the issue at hand, and that is - why in the world can someone buy an assault rifle at the same store where I buy my sports bras and in the same amount of time.  Those supporting stricter gun control regulations are not seeking to take people's individual right to own firearms away.  What these supporters are doing, however, is pushing for regulations that are just pure common sense.  I have yet to hear a sensible argument for why and how an assault rifle is necessary or practical for basic home defense, and my husband owns one!  He and I have gone around and around about the need for this weapon and finally he conceded that he just likes having it.  If only people would stop conflating their desire to own an assault rifle with a far-reaching Second Amendment rights argument, perhaps they could see how sensible gun control laws are better for all of us in the long run.

But let's face it - deflecting the conversation away from gun control is as political a move as you can get.  Now, maybe it's not popular in the conservative ranks to discuss gun control because campaign funding from the NRA is contingent upon repeating and being loyal to the party line.   After all, isn't it ironic that the same people who didn't want to talk about gun control the day after the Las Vegas attack find it perfectly OK to talk about immigration reform the day after the New York city sidewalk attack. But when it comes to large numbers of people being killed by assault weapons and the availability thereof, sometimes you have to set politics aside and deal with things on a human and non-partisan level.  

So I'm sorry, Mr. President, the Texas mass shooting is NOT just a mental health issue.  It's absolutely a gun issue.  There's a gun issue when a 26 year old boy can waltz into a sports and outdoor store and purchase an assault rifle in the same amount of time it takes him to purchase tennis balls and beef jerky. There's a gun issue when a man with 47 guns mows down a crowd of concertgoers.  There's an issue when a boy has access to an arsenal of guns and kills 20 babies inside of a grade school.  If these three incidents weren't the perfect time to talk about gun control - then when?

Photo by Thomas Tucker on Unsplash

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