Like most of you, I awoke Sunday morning to the horrific news about the mass murder at Club Q here in Colorado Springs. More lives lost and other lives shattered here in our Colorado, a state that has a dreadful history of such wholesale killings, including Columbine in 1999 and the Aurora movie theater shooting in 2012, among others. And with each such tragedy, we hear calls to remember the victims and to support the survivors and families.
No doubt some in national leadership, especially on the GOP side, have offered thoughts and prayers. It is important to note, as of writing this essay Monday morning, that we don’t have all the facts, other than a long gun was used and there were heroes in that club who prevented even more carnage. The shooter is certainly facing lots of charges, potentially including hate crimes.
But regardless of what we learn about the shooter’s (I won’t say his name) intentions, nothing meaningful will be done to deal with the ongoing mass killings in our nation — a pattern seen nowhere else on Earth — and no meaningful progress will be made addressing our gun problem.
I write these words as a former military cop and a gun owner with a concealed carry permit. I believe in the Second Amendment, in that I believe a “well-regulated militia” as outlined by the founders would include era-appropriate limits on what weapons can end up in the hands of “regular” citizens. The weapons of war belong in the hands of warriors.
But the simple and appalling truth is that no mass shooting, no mass murder, no horrific crime will make any difference.
I have long been a supporter of reasonable gun regulation. The catch, of course, is that word “reasonable,” in that it means very different things to different people on the ideological spectrum. Years ago, I argued that it would take something unspeakable, like someone shooting up a kindergarten class, before the national GOP leadership would be shocked enough to break the bonds the NRA has placed on that party. I was sure that if we ever saw dead kids, it would make a difference.
Then came Sandy Hook, the tenth anniversary of which comes Dec. 14. On that dark day in history, another monster whose name shall not appear here murdered his mom and then killed six adults and 20 tiny kids with a weapon of war. Surely, surely this type of horror would finally snap the chains the NRA appeared to have on the GOP?
A majority of Americans want more gun control, and it isn’t the Democrats standing in the way. No, it is the national GOP. And back in 2012, I was sure there were enough Republican parents, enough big brothers and sisters, in that once-honorable organization who would now move on from the mere offering of more thoughts and prayers on the graves of murdered first graders. Surely change could finally come?
I was wrong.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook murders, and many more, the national GOP has decided that near-unlimited gun rights are more important than the lives of classrooms full of kids. They put the interests of the NRA over those of mourning parents, assault rifles over little kids’ lives, and that is shameful.
To those who argue this isn’t the time to bring politics into the issue, I ask, well, when then? Now is precisely the time to bring politics into it, while hearts still ache, and the next mass shooting is in the future and is possibly preventable. Offering thoughts and prayers is literally the very least you can do. We need real, responsible, appropriate and thoughtful gun regulation.
The founders did indeed want an armed citizenry, for two primary reasons. First, to be able to repel an invasion should a European power cross the Atlantic (as the Brits did in 1812) and to defend our nation and to aid its then-small standing army. The second reason, as the NRA correctly says, was to have citizens armed and able to bring down the United States government, should that government become tyrannical.
But here’s the thing: time changes things.
Back when the founders wrote the Second Amendment, the U.S. military was largely carrying Brown Bess muskets, capable of firing a single lead ball every 20 to 40 seconds or so. For an armed citizenry to be able to bring down the government, that citizenry would need to be armed essentially the same, as it was in 1787.
Today, of course, no group of citizens attempting an insurrection (as we saw on Jan. 6) would have the weapons able to defeat, say, the 101st Airborne. That is a good thing — we really don’t want your odd uncle or that strange guy that lives down the street to have a flame thrower or anthrax cannon. That portion of the Second Amendment has been overtaken by time and events; in much the same way the Third Amendment has been (do you worry about soldiers being quartered in your home against your wishes these days?).
And so, on this bright and sunny Colorado day, I feel hopeless. I do not believe the Club Q shooting will make any difference. Indeed, given that it is an LGBTQ+ club, I suspect there are even some who will make “God’s wrath” or other bigoted claims to excuse mass murder.
If Sandy Hook couldn’t change things, I fear nothing will, and that would break my heart if it wasn’t already broken.
Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.