America needs more than just ‘thoughts and prayers’

STRAY THOUGHTS

BY RANDY EVANS

Our leaders like to remind us, and the rest of the world, too, that the United States is the most powerful nation on Earth.

Yet, the events of the past week are a reminder that the U.S. appears to be incapable of dealing effectively with some events that occur in this country.

When news flashed around the globe that a United States congressman had been gunned down by a sniper at a community baseball field outside of Washington, D.C., the first thing many commentators and members of Congress said were along the lines of, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Congressman Steve Scalise.”

It wasn’t long before the finger-pointing began.

Some people wanted to point at liberal Democrats because of their sharp, ongoing criticism of President Donald Trump and the language he uses.

Other people wanted to point at political leaders who have supported laws and regulations that make it easier to obtain guns.

And for still other people, they wondered why more and better security isn’t available for members of Congress.

I’ve grown weary of this back-and-forth blame game.

James Hodgkinson, 66, was an opinionated home inspector from the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis. He was a Democrat, a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential campaign, and was a member of several anti-Republican groups on social media.

But that background alone is not a recipe for a crime spree. Past gunmen in mass shootings have had opposite political views.

It doesn’t matter whether these killers or would-be killers are liberal or conservative, Democrats or Republicans. It’s their extremist views — justifying in their warped minds that taking someone’s life is somehow right. That is more important than which political party they favor.

In the days after the senseless actions by Hodgkinson, one congressman said he is working with the National Rifle Association to draft legislation that would allow members of Congress and their staffs to arm themselves for protection.

There certainly is a need for discussion about how members of Congress can be better protected. We don’t need more Steve Scalises and Gabby Giffordses. But we also don’t need nervous aides pulling guns out of their suit jackets and shooting innocent constituents who walk up to a senator or representative after a boisterous town hall gathering.

Most of all, the discussion in our nation needs to move beyond protecting lawmakers. The discussion also needs to get beyond suggestions that political leaders, the media and ordinary citizens be more respectful of each other and tone down the rhetoric they direct at people with whom they disagree.

This problem is far bigger and far more serious than the tweets and off-the-cuff comments by our president, or the blunt and impolite comments other politicians and television commentators sometimes make.

It’s about time our leaders talk in a meaningful way about how the federal government and the states can make better mental health evaluations and treatment more widely available. In Iowa, this is sadly illustrated by the shooting death of high school football coach Ed Thomas by a former player who struggled with mental illness.

It’s about time members of Congress talk seriously about the ease with which firearms can be sold without adequate background checks.

Gun advocates bristle when anyone brings up the subject of the availability of semi-automatic assault weapons like that used by the gunman in Alexandria, Va. Gun advocates talk about how hunters like to use these weapons.

Last week, James Hodgkinson went hunting with his semi-automatic rifle. But he was hunting Republicans, not wild animals.

The questions of safety do not just involve members of Congress and the security at their events. There are lots of people who worry about the danger to ordinary Americans from gun violence. People are justified for their anxiety over their safety and the safety of their children at school, at church, at the mall — and at baseball practice.

It’s too simplistic to think that more people carrying guns are going to make these tragic mass shootings disappear.

President Ronald Reagan was surrounded by the world’s best security detail in 1981 when he was critically wounded outside a Washington hotel.

If the Secret Service couldn’t protect the president and his press secretary from John Hinckley Jr. with dozens of highly trained and well-armed officers, why does anyone believe that a Little League baseball coach with a handgun stuck in the waistband of his pants or in his equipment bag is going to being able to protect a dozen kids on the ball diamond if a sniper like Hodgkinson shows up at practice?

It’s time that we as a nation move beyond merely offering comforting thoughts and prayers to the victims when a tragedy like the one last week occurs. It’s time that we and our government leaders begin talking about ways we can turn the tide in this alarming trend of violence.

Members of Congress, what do you suggest we do? Let’s get this conversation started now. Time is a-wasting — and so are innocent people’s lives.