Let’s play ball on gun reform

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, June 21, 2017

by Dick Polman

Sometimes the irony is so thick, you can’t cut it with a laser.

House Republicans had long planned to hold a hearing on Wednesday on an NRA bill that would make it far easier for gun owners to buy silencers. The so-called “Hearing Protection Act” (I kid you not) was all set for subcommittee scrutiny — until news broke about the Field of Screams.

Having tallied the wounded — this was the 195th mass shooting of the year — Republicans speedily canceled the gun silencer hearing, deeming it inappropriate. Given the circumstances, and all that.

But then it occurred to me: If our latest angry white guy, newly dead James Hodginkson, had been free to fit a silencer on his easily obtained killing machine, wouldn’t that have slowed the reaction time of the Republican ballplayers and the cops who’d accompanied them? If he’d sprayed his bullets with a silencer attached, wouldn’t there have been an enhanced risk of far more casualties? And if the next angry white guy, and the ones after that, are free to do the same, won’t that ratchet up the death toll?

It’s futile to even ask such questions, of course, because America is terminally locked and loaded.

Rest assured that after Republicans dry their tears about Majority Whip Steve Scalise and the other wounded souls, they’ll get back to the NRA’s business. The gun silencer hearing will be held. Another NRA bill, which would allow people who live in states with lax gun laws to pack their concealed-carry heat in states with strict gun laws, is waiting in the wings. And Republicans, with Trump’s help, have already made it easier for some fugitives and mentally impaired people to buy guns.

Republicans did indeed shed tears on Wednesday — understandably so — for their wounded allies and colleagues. But in their grief, perhaps it would also have been appropriate to ask themselves: “How come a guy with a history of violence had a gun license and an assault weapon?”

Hodgkinson, by all accounts, was an unhinged lefty extremist who hated Republicans — just a variation of the unhinged right-wing extremists who hate lefties and Democrats. What all these people have in common is a profound sense of alienation and a propensity for violence. Their anger — not ideology — is their prime motivator. Hodginkson fit the profile perfectly.

In his home state of Illinois (prior to his recent move to Alexandria, Virginia, where he spent weeks stalking the ballfield), he racked up a string of offenses — damaging a motor vehicle, resisting police, criminally damaging property, driving under the influence, discharging a firearm (he was shooting at trees across a neighbor’s property while the neighbor was outside with his grandchildren), assaulting a neighboring girl (punching her with a closed fist), threatening a neighbor with a shotgun, and assaulting his foster daughter (which led to his arrest on a domestic violence charge). In court, he screamed at the judge. But the judge dismissed the case after the daughter mixed up the court date and failed to appear.

In virtually any other western nation, Hodgkinson, with all his red flags, would’ve been denied a gun permit. But in America, he was good for it. He also obtained an automatic weapon, the kind that civilians typically can’t get in most western nations. But in America, he was good for it. Because it’s considered important to protect the “gun rights” of people like him.

In America, the marketing of mass-destruction weaponry is simply good business. Hodgkinson’s weapon of choice was reportedly an M4, or similar to it. The manufacturer’s selling spiel for the M4 goes like this: “The M4 can be comfortably carried, yet be instantly available to provide … firepower, dependability and accuracy. Proven in military combat operations all over the world, it is in a class by itself as a first rate combat weapon system.”

But there’s no way Republicans will connect these dots. Roughly 30 Americans die each day in gun homicides, but that’s deemed acceptable collateral damage. Mo Brooks, one of the congressmen who escaped the ballfield assault without injury, conceded yesterday that the Second Amendment has some “adverse aspects,” but said that gun rights “are fundamental to our being the greatest nation in world history.” And as Senator Rand Paul declared in a tweet last year, “Why do we have a Second Amendment? It’s not to shoot deer. It’s to shoot at the government when it becomes tyrannical!”

Well, that’s precisely what Hodgkinson thought he was doing. It’s just a shame that NRA politicians make it so easy for people like him. And when Steve Scalise recovers from his wounds, rest assured that he’ll continue to toe the line. After all, his NRA rating is A Plus.

DICK POLMAN is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Pennsylvania. Email him at dickpolman7@gmail.com.