(This is Part II of a two-part series. Part I focused on the response by local pro-gun Oregonians)
UPDATED (10/13/15): The Democratic candidates debated the issue of gun violence prevention. Watch it HERE.
It's been 12 days since the horrible mass shooting at Umpqua Community College.
The wounded are healing. Some have been released from the hospital. And those who died are being remembered in various memorial services, vigils, and special events. (Examples HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.)
As of today, UCC has resumed classes. There is a high police presence today to help reassure students, and there is increased mental counselling and comfort dogs present.
As I said in Part I of the series, it's no surprise to anyone that there are polar differences between the two sides of the gun debate. Nothing displays that difference more than the responses after a large mass shooting.
There is certainly a stark difference between the responses of Democrats and Republicans. Beyond the standard and utterly-repetitive "They are in our hearts and prayers" statement, many high-profile politicians weighed in with more substantive comments.
For Democratic politicians, they firmly placed themselves in the gun violence prevention camp, calling upon new gun laws to help keep guns out of the hands of madmen like the one who attacked UCC. These statements are growing in number and becoming less wishy-washy with every new mass shooting that happens (we now have more than one a day in America, by the way!).
President Obama set the tone with his address to the nation later that day, the 15th time he has addressed the nation after mass shootings [see this interactive map to see each of those speeches]. In his speech, he minced no words in his call to pass new legislation to help prevent another of what has become "routine" mass shootings in America, and chastised Conservatives for not taking action. He then came to Roseburg, personally, last Friday, to pay his respects to the victim families and survivors. At least one family member, a father of a deceased victim, felt comforted by the visit.
Oregonian legislators also weighed in. Representative Earl Blumenauer gave a passionate speech on the House floor. He also rolled out a comprehensive plan to combat gun violence. Senator Jeff Merkley lost an extended family member in the shooting, the great-granddaughter of a cousin of his [the extremist Oregon Firearms Federation mocked Merkley as part of their response to the UCC shooting, suggesting that Merkley had to do "hours of geneology" to find a connection and that he did this to "roll around in the blood of the victims at pressers and photo ops"]. Later, both Merkley and fellow Oregon senator Ron Wyden joined together in calling for stricter gun reforms, including background checks for all gun sales, strengthening the NICS background check system, and better prosecution of "straw purchase" sales.
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has always been an advocate for tighter gun laws, but after the UCC shooting, she stepped up her emphasis on this need by affirming that she would stand up to the NRA and call for universal background checks. [Update: She has also signaled that she would consider a gun buyback program, similar to the one Australia enacted.]
The other major Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, has had a mixed history when it comes to gun reform, and has voted against some major gun reforms in the past. He was against the Brady Background Check bill or waiting periods. After the UCC shooting, he reversed some of his previous philosophies and released a statement that "consensus" is needed to prevent mass shootings. He now wants to enforce instant background checks on all gun purchases, ban semi-auto assault rifle sales, make "straw purchases" a federal crime, and enhance mental health screening. He has also said he would soon release a position statement on gun legislation, but to my knowledge has not yet done so. On "Meet the Press," when pressed about his vote for the "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act," (PLCAA)—which gave gun manufacturers, distributors and dealers unprecedented broad immunity from civil litigation—Sanders softened his position significantly, stating, "That was a complicated vote and I’m willing to see changes in that provision ... So can we take another look at that liability issue? Yes.”
A lesser-known Democratic presidential candidate, Martin O'Malley, has come out the strongest for gun reform and says he has a plan that includes a ban on assault weapons, "fingerprinting and licensing for every person who purchases a gun and for changing the laws so that trafficking illegal guns is a federal crime. He also urged the federal government to refuse to buy guns from manufacturers that do not use all safety technology available, such as micro-stamping."
It comes as no surprise that no Republican politician or candidate has suggested any plan whatsoever to keep guns out of the wrong hands. They basically repeat the NRA propaganda talk, calling for more guns in more hands, blaming the mentally ill, or shrugging the issue off completely. Since the UCC shooting, they've truly tooted the NRA horn.
Presidential hopeful Jeb Bush was by far the most flippant. When asked about what he would do in the wake of the UCC shooting, he callously responded "Stuff happens." He went on to say that government wasn't the answer we should "connect ourselves" and that it may not be the "right thing to do" to respond to a crisis of this sort in any way.
Another presidential hopeful, Donald Trump, responded to the UCC shooting by saying that the teachers and students should have been armed, then puffed himself up by saying he owns a gun and would shoot anyone who attacks him. How very macho of him. He then doubled down on his callousness and called mass shooters "geniuses in a certain way" and shrugged off any attempts to keep guns out of their hands, simply saying "That's the way the world goes." He had previously come out against any new gun laws and blamed the mentally ill. Trump has come out with a position statement on guns, which basically echoes the NRA by reinforcing the idea of self-defense, expanding conceal carry, opposing universal background checks, and again blaming the mentally ill.
Another Presidential hopeful, Bobby Jindal, long an advocate for expanded gun rights, suggested that the UCC shooting was the fault of the shooter's father, cultural decay, and video games, even though the shooter had hardly been in contact with his father for years, and all other advanced nations share much of our culture and all of our video games. Funny how he doesn't blame the shooter's mother at all, given that she armed her son, trained him in firearms, and turned a blind eye to his violent behavior and unhealthy interest in other mass shootings. Jindal's philosophy seems to be a failed one, though, given that Louisiana is the second highest in the nation for per-capita shooting deaths.
A fourth presidential candidate, John Kasich, blamed the shooting on "loneliness" and "alienation" and completely shrugged off the role of guns. He again blamed the mentally ill, too.
A final presidential candidate, Ben Carson, blamed the victims of the UCC shooting by saying that they were too compliant and let the shooter kill them, stating that if only he had been in that classroom, he "would not just stand there and let him shoot me. I would say, 'Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me but he can't get us all.'" He also doubled down on his pro-gun rhetoric by saying "but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away." Wow. Apparently this doctor has forgotten his Hippocratic oath to prevent harm to patients and that, according to the oath, he has "special obligations to all my fellow human beings". The heartless nature of Carson astounds even me! Naturally, a great many people were incensed by his statements, including the daughter of a Sandy Hook victim. Well, it turns out that Carson had been in a robbery at a restaurant years before, and when the gunman aimed his gun at him, Carson didn't attack him, but rather mildly said, "I believe that you want the guy behind the counter." What a "hero."
Well, gun violence isn't a "Democrat" or "Republican" issue, as I see it. Bullets don't care what your political affiliation is, and neither do most gunmen when they pull the trigger. Gun violence is an urgent public health crisis, with 33,000 killed and 70,000 injured per year in the U.S. in gun homicides, suicides, and accidents. Sadly, Republicans roundly refuse to consider ways to keep guns out of the wrong hands, preferring instead to proliferate guns in our society and blame boogeymen like the mentally ill, loneliness, or video games, or not caring about the issue at all. So we need to vote for the candidates, whatever their party, who will do more to keep guns out of the wrong hands and have a plan to do so.
UPDATE (11/9/15): Hillary Clinton has now unveiled her full gun violence prevention plan.