The call for stricter gun control has been in the air since the shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. We’ve heard it from the president, we’ve heard it from Hillary Clinton, and now we’re hearing it from Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa). Appearing at a reception Tuesday night where Toomey was honored by the families of Sandy Hook victims, the two made the case for new laws.
“What I’m trying to figure out is, is there something that could get the support of the 60 votes that we would need in the Senate,” Toomey said. “Joe Manchin was and is a great partner and someone I will continue to work with, and I’m open to exploring what is possible.”
The two senators hope to expand background checks in such a way that will keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. “If we stay at it,” Toomey said, “we’ll find a way to make progress.”
Until they actually move on legislation, it’s just talk. But Toomey is a veteran of the gun control wars, often finding himself at odds with the Republican Party as he pushed for stricter laws. Both senators pushed for tighter background check rules in 2013, only to ultimately meet defeat in the Senate. Today, with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, their battle will be more challenging than before.
Still, there’s no question that every tragedy of this sort draws us a little closer to the left’s ideal form of gun control. And of course there will always be a handful of Republicans willing to play along. It’s far easier to just go with the flow. Far easier to take the popular stance instead of the right one. It takes courage to stand against gun violence victims and their families. It must be done with compassion, intelligence, and heart. Three qualities in short supply on Capitol Hill.
To be sure, the message sounds good. Why wouldn’t we want to create laws that would make it harder for psychopaths to get a gun? Isn’t that just common sense?
Well, yes and no. The problem is that people don’t walk around with a little sign on their forehead that says Mentally Ill. Plenty of mass shooters and murderers have nothing in their background to suggest they are a danger to society. Plenty of people who would never hurt a fly have psychiatric histories that would make them look more dangerous than they really are. How do we tell the difference?
The kind of legislation we’re hearing proposed would do great damage to the principle of doctor-patient confidentiality. When you tag consequences to psychiatric examinations, you discourage people from seeking help. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what kind of situation that creates.
If we really want to learn something from this tragedy, we need to stop using it as an excuse to push gun control, the evils of the Confederate flag, and other tangentially-related issues. We need to address the specific problems of this specific case and see what would have prevented it. And we need to have the courage to understand that bad things happen. Human history is littered with tragedy and death and blood. Does that mean we can’t try to do a little better? Of course not. But if we try to change the fundamental truths of the human existence, we’re sure to meet failure at every turn.