Opinion | After Uvalde and Buffalo, even Republicans seem to know something has to change

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Americans are fed up – and they’re not going to take it anymore.

You’ve seen it over and over. A misfit outlier, using a gun he should never have had, mows down everyday people going about their business. The dead bodies this time – from a grocery store and an elementary school – were mostly children and the elderly.

The first shattering event, a massacre at a Buffalo grocery store, claimed 10 lives. The store was the “village watering hole,” according to one resident. The dead included a journalist who often wrote about gun violence.

Next: An 18-year-old killed 21 people, 19 children and two teachers, at an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex. But first, he warmed up his trigger finger by blasting his grandmother in the face. Yes, of course, he had mental problems. Anyone who takes an assault rifle to a public place intent on killing can be found somewhere in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

If my reading of social media is correct, public outrage seems finally to have reached a crescendo that might lead to change. People are angrier than ever about the growing violence and lack of action. One can stand the sight of only so many dead children. Since the first school mass shooting in Stockton, Calif., In 1989, we’ve had front-row seats to 13 more massacres. But those are just the spectacular ones. Since 1970, there have been at least 188 school shootings, according to a New York Times analysis of data from the K-12 School Shooting Database. We’ve become a nation fluent in the shocked rhetoric of pain and loss. “Thoughts and prayers,” a hollow expression of condolence from overuse, may as well be “ham ‘n’ cheese.” The names of our slaughterhouses have become as familiar as one-name celebrities: Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland – and now Uvalde.

And nothing ever happens. A few public figures engage in performance outrage. Democrat Beto O’Rourke, now running for Texas governor, tried to command a news conference as Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and others were delivering updates on the massacre.

Beto, baby, timing is everything, and yours was way off.

President Biden strained his vocal cords as he asked, “When in God’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?” No kidding. As ineffective as such strutting and fretting has proved to be, he was expressing what most are feeling right now. When exactly did we lose our minds? Will this time be any different?

Maybe. Several things can be done that could reduce the bloodshed: deeper background checks; “Red-flag” laws allowing law enforcement officers with a court order to seize guns from someone considered a danger to themselves or others; closing gun show loopholes; and maybe banning kids from buying assault weapons. All of these would help.

And all are iffy at best, though several Republicans, including Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (SC), Marco Rubio (Fla.) And Rick Scott (Fla.) Have indicated they could lean toward red-flag legislation. This is hardly a demonstration of political courage, but it’s more than nothing – and seems the measure that could do the most good.

More than half of Americans want some reasonable reforms. A vast majority, including 69 percent of NRA members, support universal background checks. Instead, we only get tiny, incremental tweaks here and there.

When grade school children are vulnerable to mass murderers, what’s the point of government?

A few pieces of legislation are winding their way through Congress, but the evenly split Senate poses a challenge. A supermajority of 60 votes would be required to overcome a filibuster. At a different time, Republicans might feel emboldened to hold their ground. But in the wake of these two carnivals of violence, even they sense the winds are shifting.

Republicans need some time on this Memorial Day Weekend in front of the mirror. Between their support for the Supreme Court’s possible reversal of abortion rights and their inaction on the slaughter of children with weapons that ought to be banned, they’re on shaky ground.

As a first step, we should change the name of the mission from gun control to gun safety, as pollster Frank Luntz has suggested. “Control” is a trigger for resistance when safety is what we’re really talking about. Words matter. Maybe some people could be more open to compromise and change if they were not immediately put on the defensive.

The predictable constitutional arguments, meanwhile, have become offensive. Yes, the Founding Fathers were concerned about another British invasion, and made it possible for early colonists to arm themselves in defense of their country. But those who wrote the Second Amendment in the 18th century could not have envisioned how their perfectly reasonable intentions would be distorted 235 years later – or how 18-year-olds would be able to buy and carry assault weapons meant for a modern battlefield into grade school classrooms.

There’s a galaxy of difference between a musket and an AK-15. It’s time to remove these instruments of mass murder from the marketplace once and for all.

We may not stop the next massacre, but we can stop making it so easy.

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