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Thoughts, Prayers, Policy

February 18, 2018

Politicians have an endless supply of thoughts and prayers for victims of gun violence and their families, including the 17 dead and 15 wounded in the Valentine’s Day school shooting in Parkland, Florida — the 18th school-related shooting this year.

Thoughts and prayers are, of course, welcome and appropriate. But grim experience demonstrates that they are inadequate to the task of protecting schoolchildren, movie audiences, concertgoers, office workers and everyone else from murderers armed with military-derived weapons that are designed for efficient killing.

Gun rights absolutists, led by President Donald Trump, dutifully sent thoughts and prayers after the massacre while trying to shift attention from guns and anything-goes gun policy.

Trump tweeted that he would turn his attention to mental health policy. Apparently, he forgot that one of his first acts in office last year was signing the NRA-backed repeal of an Obama administration rule that had required the names of people deemed unable to handle their own affairs to be added to the national background check database for gun purchases. That regulation, making it more difficult for people with serious mental illnesses to buy deadly weapons, was created following the 2012 massacre of 20 first-graders and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut.

Gun rights absolutists are right when they say that no single law or regulation will resolve the gun violence problem. But the objective is to diminish the absolutist gun culture so that, over time, the country will develop a more rational approach to the distribution of weapons like the Smith&Wesson M&P15 semiautomatic assault rifle that 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz used to kill 17 in Parkland, that James Holmes used in 2012 to kill 12 at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, and that Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik used to kill 14 at a government office in San Bernardino, California, in 2015.

Rather than thoughts and prayers after massacres, legislators need to enact rational gun policy to help prevent those tragedies.

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