Following the horrific Independence Day mass shooting in Highland Park, Congress reacted with passage of the Active Shooter Alert Act. Like the Amber Alert system that immediately signals the public to be on the lookout for missing children through cellphones and other media, the new measure would notify the public about active shooters.
It’s a commonsense measure. It’s also a modest, tepid response to the latest in a ceaseless line of mass shootings in America. Simply put, it’s not enough.
The Active Shooter Alert Act, sponsored by Reps. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, and Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, was passed by the U.S. House in a 260-169 vote.
It’s an idea that could have been useful in Highland Park. The gunman was at large for eight hours and was able to drive to Wisconsin after opening fire on the Fourth of July parade crowd. Robert Crimo III, 21, has been charged with the murder of seven people at the parade. Dozens more were injured.
Almost all of the votes against the act came from Republicans, except for one Democrat, Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin, who is not running for reelection. Forty-three Republicans, including Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, voted in favor of the bill, which now heads to the Senate where the 50-50 partisan split is hard to predict.
Other Republicans raised charges of “government overreach.” Ohio’s Jim Jordan, the ranking House Judiciary Committee member with a well-earned reputation for grandstanding, called the bill a “gimmick” to “cede more authority to the already highly politicized Biden Department of Justice.” Seriously?
Unfortunately, modest, milquetoast measures have been the only gun safety ideas that have had much of a chance of being passed by today’s deeply polarized Congress. Anything tougher invites countercharges of greasing the “slippery slope” to outright gun confiscation, despite the lack of popular support for anything that radical.
Chicagoans have grown weary of hearing gun lobbyists and their allies argue that gun violence has surged almost out of control in their city, despite Chicago having some of the toughest gun laws in the country. What they don’t talk about is the near-futility of police trying to take illegal guns off the streets, even as more guns stream illegally into the city from bordering states with looser gun laws.
The more effective answer is to pass federal gun laws that uniformly govern all states. That may be too much to ask for given Congress’ current polarization, but too much is at stake to give up the effort.
Although polls show most Americans want serious commonsense remedies, like universal background checks for gun purchases, a zealous minority works tirelessly to maintain or, wherever possible, roll back limits on who should be allowed to purchase a gun.
Since the so-called Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 was allowed to expire in 2004, the National Rifle Association and a newer wave of even more intransigent gun lobbyists have prevented such measures from being resurrected.
Meanwhile body counts mount in mass shootings involving semi-automatic military-style rifles, commonly called “assault rifles.” Firearms aficionados may scoff at the term, but it signifies the extraordinarily powerful damage caused to the human body when these weapons fall into the wrong hands.
Pro-gun activists argue that assault weapons account for a very small percentage of gun deaths. But that’s only because other weapons, particularly handguns, are far more plentiful. That’s an argument for tighter controls on all gun purchases and trafficking, not less.
How many more mass shooters must we endure, we need to ask ourselves, before we finally give some commonsense remedies a fighting chance?