After last month’s mass shooting inside The Grand 16 Theatre in Lafayette, Gov. Bobby Jindal was quick to shut down any talk about the role that easy access to guns played in this and other such tragedies.
“Now is not the time” to get into the “politics” of gun control, Jindal said, prescribing hugs and prayers instead.
Well, it’s been a week and a half. Can we talk about it yet? And if not now, then when?
Since that horrible night, we’ve learned quite a lot about John “Rusty” Houser, who took his own life after shooting two young women to death and injuring nine other moviegoers during an early evening showing of the comedy “Trainwreck.”
We now know Houser had a long history of mental illness, and of the sort of erratic and violent behavior that terrified those who knew him best. We know he was on the radar of law enforcement agencies in the places he lived.
We know Jindal’s initial assessment on national television that Louisiana law would have caught Houser’s attempt to buy a gun was way off the mark; it turns out that he hadn’t been involuntarily committed, the trigger for denying a purchase, as initially believed. Houser purchased the handgun he used in the theater shooting legally in Alabama.
And we know what we’ve always known, that there are huge holes in existing laws and mechanisms aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.
One is that background checks aren’t required at gun shows, for online purchases and in sales between private individuals. Another is that the records aren’t good enough and that the law errs in favor of purchase if conflicting information can’t be resolved in three days. That’s what happened following the drug arrest of Dylann Roof, who should not have been granted permission to purchase the gun he allegedly used in the Charleston, South Carolina, church massacre in June, according to the FBI.
We also know that, despite Jindal’s professed shock that such a thing could ever happen in Louisiana, the state has among the laxest gun laws — some adopted with the governor’s enthusiastic support — and highest rates of gun violence in the country.
In fact, there’s quite a bit to discuss. And that includes, yes, changing a political culture in which it’s nearly impossible to even talk about reasonable gun measures without being accused of attacking the Second Amendment.
It includes trying to learn everything we can about the causes of gun violence.
Yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t touched that topic since — get this — 1996, when the National Rifle Association accused the federal agency of trying to use research to promote gun control. That didn’t change after the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre of schoolchildren and teachers in 2012, despite an executive order by President Barack Obama. And it didn’t change after Charleston, when the House Appropriations Committee shot down yet another effort to fund such research.
And it includes having an honest discussion about closing the gun show loophole, restricting arms designed to inflict mass casualties and other reasonable measures the gun lobby opposes. Poll after poll has shown that a majority of Americans support such measures, yet fear of the NRA — which has given Jindal its highest marks — routinely chills such conversations.
As for Jindal, he doesn’t hesitate to invoke politics after mass slayings when it fits his own campaign narrative. Soon after the murders of five servicemen in Chattanooga, Tennessee, last month — at a point when he even admitted that “it’s too early for sure to know what happened” — he tried to score points by once more criticizing Obama for not using the term “radical Islam.” So he’s really not one to talk about politicizing tragedy.
That’s not to say he and his fellow politicians weren’t shaken to their cores by what happened in Lafayette. Anyone would be.
The question is, what does it take to shake them enough to actually talk about why these things keep happening — let alone go beyond lip service and do something?