Opinion

Opinion: Congress Likely to Ignore Parkland Teens’ Case for Action on Gun Violence

Former Rep. Forbes: Even children’s tiny caskets could not get Congress to act

Students hold flowers as they arrive for classes Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, for the first time since the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 people. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

As a Republican member of Congress, I was compelled to abandon my party in 1999. America’s children had been murdered in their school and the GOP, which controlled the fix to gun violence, did nothing about it.

I sat listening to the debate on gun control in the United States House of Representatives with Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York, whose husband had been murdered and son wounded several years earlier by a deranged gunman. It was June 19, 1999. The unspeakable tragedy of Columbine had sparked an intense debate on the House floor to do something to protect our children in the nation’s schools. After all, these were America’s children, these were all our children, our future. It could have been my child, or your child, murdered at Columbine High School.

We had to do something. Surely, our leaders in Washington would do something.

Then, the National Rifle Association unleashed its powerful army of lobbyists and millions of dollars across Capitol Hill to ensure there would be no action by their patrons in Congress.

The more things change …

In the 19 years since, an untold number of children and adults have suffered wanton destruction in their schools, their churches, their neighborhoods and communities. But the NRA continues to unleash its powerful army of lobbyists and millions of dollars across Capitol Hill to ensure there will be no action by their patrons in Congress.

Nothing meaningful to stop the violence against our children ever happened then, nor will it occur now. Crickets from Congress.

Watch: Trump’s Clout on Gun Control is Limited, and House GOP Won’t Help

In Parkland, Florida, last month, we saw 17 innocent children and their teachers murdered in their school. These were America’s children. These were teachers acting as their protectors. At Columbine, we saw 13 children and teachers murdered in their school. They were America’s children. These were teachers acting as their protectors. At Sandy Hook, we saw 26 innocent children, teachers and staff murdered in their school. … These were teachers and staff acting as their protectors.

The spectacle of the tiny coffins of the babies murdered at Sandy Hook would surely prompt Congress to act. Thirty-two students murdered at Virginia Tech would surely prompt Congress to act. The massive assault in Las Vegas would surely prompt Congress to act. Rep. Gabby Giffords meeting constituents, Rep. Steve Scalise and other lawmakers shot up during baseball practice, surely “that” would prompt Congress to act to end gun violence.

[Scalise Meets Parkland Students, but Unchanged on Gun Laws]

But Congress did nothing. Congress is doing nothing to stem gun violence. Crickets from Congress.

Same story

So why is the latest rampage with a gun any different? It is not.

The very eloquent, impassioned teens are making an optimal case for action. Good for them. They have every right to expect the nation to respond.

But, trust me. I was there. The politicians and their benefactor, the National Rifle Association, will do nothing. 

Public meetings at the White House, a town hall gathering on cable television, a march on Tallahassee and another expected in Washington — all worthy endeavors that even the NRA class might encourage to emotionally “blow off steam” — should not substitute for concrete solutions to this national problem. It is in these discussions where action on gun violence is likely to end. 

In 1999, the Senate passed background checks for purchases at gun shows, the House refused to act. That was all the families of murdered children then got from Congress.

In 2018, for its part, Congress may at best nibble around the edges to appear in an election year to be doing something, anything. Perhaps the House will pass a few “feel good” measures such as a ban on bump stocks, a change in age to possess certain firearms, or a cosmetic fix to background checks (with the private assurance that the Senate will “not” pass a similar bill).

Then the Senate, particularly to offer political cover for Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, will pass its own cosmetic fix to appear in an election year to be doing something, anything (with the private assurance that the House will “not” pass a similar bill).

Watch — Trump To Lawmaker: ‘You Are Afraid of the NRA’

No fix in sight

There you have it. A fix that won’t be a fix. One chamber of Congress will blame the other for failing to act. But they will say we tried. And Donald Trump and his benefactors at the NRA will have been victorious in stopping any fix to our gun laws.

The grip of the NRA on our political leaders is not to be ignored. As one of the nation’s wealthiest, most influential and most mobilized groups, the NRA is integral to many a politician’s financial lifeblood to re-election. 

The $30 million dedicated by the NRA to electing Trump president further seals the deal that from its patrons in government, once again, there will be little or no action on gun violence.

Michael P. Forbes represented New York’s 1st Congressional District from early 1995 to early 2001. He was first elected as a Republican but switched parties in 1999. He now serves as the deacon at Saint William Catholic Church in Round Rock, Texas. 

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