On May 9th the United States Senate passed bipartisan legislation aimed to extend security protections to immediate family members of Supreme Court justices. The release of a court draft about an abortion decision is expected this spring and has unleashed much fervor in the nation, including protests at the homes of justices. The legislation would provide security similar to protections now afforded to family members of some executive and legislative branch officials.
What is striking about this matter is that the bill had only been introduced a few days prior to the Senate vote. With swift moves, the bill rocketed through the legislative process and then received unanimous support on the floor. It awaits House action.
I have no issue with the legislation, finding it totally acceptable. I have always been concerned about protesting at the home of judges or politicians. It is unseemly. Given the social climate of increasing anger about almost every issue and a willingness to cross lines of proper behavior, there is no doubt about the bill’s necessity.
What we witnessed is the ability of the Senate to act with great dispatch when it wants to, moving with clarity and resolve. But when it comes to mass shootings in the nation after ‘thoughts and prayers’ and a few lines of outrage from members of congress, the dialogue moves to other matters, and then nothing more is said.
Or more importantly, done.
Saturday’s news about the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York contained more of the horrific narratives we have come to know all too well in our nation. For those keeping track, and what a sad statistic to even know, this was the 198th mass shooting so far this year in the United States.
An 18-year-old white man unleashed a volley of bullets at a predominately Black supermarket killing 10 people and injuring three others. The investigation has already demonstrated that this was a hate crime and a case of racially motivated violent extremism.
Where Congress should jump into the matter is based on law enforcement reporting that the suspect, Payton Gendron, was investigated less than a year ago by state police after they received a report he’d made a threatening statement at his high school. He was reportedly taken into custody on June 8, 2021, and evaluated at a mental hospital. He was not charged. He was back on the streets in less than two days.
Gendron’s behavior and mental make-up should have sent red alarms up and disallowed him from buying guns, bullets, and body armor. But the laws in the states and at the national level were too lax to prevent what happened.
The suspect in the Buffalo shooting bought his assault weapon at a store in Endicott, N.Y., and said in an online manifesto that he also purchased a shotgun in Pennsylvania.
New York prohibits anyone under 21 from obtaining a handgun permit, but no permit is needed to buy a long gun. The state allows people to own long guns, such as rifles and shotguns, at age 16, and buy them at 18.
There are many creative minds within government and academia that surely could cultivate a plan worthy of passage where local law enforcement, and mental health providers, using government data systems could find a much more determined path forward to deal with these types of people who may become mass shooters. Clearly, the existing procedures that allow for someone like Gendron to be added to the background system are seriouly flawed. That is obvious as the type of person who made headlines Saturday is the very type that the FBI and DHS have been warning the American people about for the last several years.
Yet, the threat made by Gendron at his school was not recorded for gun background checks.
We know that the white ‘lone wolf’ has been described for years by federal agencies as one who will use extreme violence as a way to express his anger. We also know that these types are radicalized by extremist content found on some media sites and also on obscure and extremist sources online. Surely there is a mechanism we, as a nation, can find to rein in such sites and deprive troubled people of feeling emboldened.
In addition, given the political upside for members of Congress to look tough on terrorism, and make no mistake mass shootings are indeed terrorism, striking hard at online content which is often placed there by foreign intelligence and terrorist organizations is a winning hand. First with public safety, but also with applause from voters. It is imperative that those with a murderous and deeply racist mindset such as Gendron not find validation for their horrific views online.
The purpose of our collective search for workable ideas and then implementing them into laws is to stem the tide of gun violence. Given the national gun culture that has dwarfed reasoning the best we can hope for at this point is to look for narrow slices of action that legislative bodies can take.
But those legislative bodies must now step up and do the people’s business.
How many more mass shootings should the nation need to endure before the ones who took on the responsibility of public leadership does the work that the public requires.
And so it goes.