Members of Congress have been hearing that line plenty of times during the August recess, and since those horrific mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.
Now that Congress is back in business, the volume has been turned up a few notches for representatives and senators to “do something” to end these senseless mass shootings and make our country a safer place.
Trouble is, there’s no clear consensus over what can be done — or whether a government solution is even possible. The creative thinkers on Capitol Hill — who can’t seem to agree on the color of the sky on a given day — have yet to figure out a way to effectively legislate against crazy. Killing people is against the law, but the crazies ignore that, too.
“We’ve gotten some of these calls (to do something), and people are crying out,” said Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher. “Everybody hurts when these shootings happen, and I hurt too. If I felt confident that I could solve it, or we could solve it, then I’d be all in. But it’s more complicated than that.”
There is no simple solution. During a recent visit to Washington, I asked Idaho Sen. Jim Risch if he could draft such a bill. “I’m not a magician. I couldn’t do it, and I don’t know anybody who could,” he said. “We have a constitutional provision, and it was so important to our Founding Fathers that they included it in the Bill of Rights.”
Idaho’s congressional delegation is hardly the place to start talking about gun control. All four Republicans are staunch supporters of the Second Amendment, and an endorsement from the National Rifle Association is like money in the bank in terms of getting votes. They win elections by healthy margins partly — if not largely — because of their views on guns. The members might be open to a watered-down measure that makes it appear that Congress is “doing something,” but not at the expense of bruising relations with the NRA. That’s no criticism of the congressional delegation … it’s just Politics 101 in Idaho.
But there is one area where Idaho Republicans can line up with the gun-control advocates.
“I don’t know of anyone who thinks that people who are mentally disturbed should be able to buy firearms,” Risch said. “We all start out in the same place in that regard, but it gets complicated after that because there’s 99.9 percent of the people who have a constitutional right to own firearms.”
Risch and Fulcher agree that the problem with mass killings will not go away, even if Congress takes the bold step of banning guns in all forms — and they have a point.
“China is having a problem with serial knifings,” Fulcher said. “People who are sick, or are not right mentally, are going to figure out a way to do damage — whether it’s a knife, a car or a truck with fertilizer in the back. I’m not going to be on the front end of restrictions on the Second Amendment.”
As Fulcher sees it, the dialogue must go beyond the halls of Congress.
“Government can’t do everything, and it wasn’t expected that it can do everything. How do you legislate against crazy? We are a product of our culture, and our culture is not healthy,” Fulcher said.
“We are not going to solve this until we can figure out how to touch the hearts and minds of people who are causing the problem,” he said. “My solution is, and nobody is going to like it, is that people need to do more to help each other — whether it’s through neighborhoods, churches or community groups.”
Congress is not going to be able to find, or reach out, to mentally disturbed people who should not be toting semi-automatic weapons with magazine sizes that can mow down masses of people in seconds. But through community efforts, then maybe — just maybe — there is a chance that would-be shooters can get the help they need. And if people keep their eyes open, maybe police can catch some of these crackpots who make threats on social media.
Fulcher is right. He’s not talking about feel-good solutions that folks want to hear. But proactive efforts outside the political arena may be the only option that’s available once we all realize that neither Congress, nor government, have the magic answers.
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Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.