What’s Left: More Prevention Needed

Eli Cousin

Congressional Republicans do not believe that America has a gun problem. It is no secret that they are the party of the NRA, staunch Second Amendment defenders and gun enthusiasts. To the majority of Republican representatives, gun violence is somehow an issue that is unrelated to the physical weaponry involved. While Democrats disagree on this issue, there had appeared to be a bipartisan agreement in recent years that one problem the U.S. actually does have is the alarming ability of the mentally ill to purchase guns. Throughout campaign season and beyond, Republicans spoke of focusing their attention on the mentally ill, rather than on gun control itself. Unfortunately, on February 15, Senate Republicans made it clear that they have no intention of confronting either aspect of the problem. 

By voting to eliminate an Obama-era rule designed to curb people with severe mental illnesses from purchasing guns, congressional Republicans showed that they are not up to the task of addressing the very real issue of gun violence in America. The legislation, which required the Social Security Administration to add 75,000 people currently on disability support to the national background check database, was rolled back following a 57 to 43 vote almost entirely along party lines.

Republicans were critical of the original legislation, saying that it was too broad. Their criticism is centered around their commitment to upholding the Second Amendment and fearing that the act unfairly prevented certain citizens from obtaining a firearm. Yet, the logic behind the legislation is quite simple: if you are not mentally stable enough to complete and manage your own finances, you are not mentally stable enough to own and operate a firearm. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) commented on the intention of the act, saying, “If you can’t manage your own financial affairs, how can we expect that you’re going to be a responsible steward of a dangerous, lethal firearm?” This statement from Senator Murphy would appear to be reasonable regardless of what side of the political spectrum you fall on. Americans, by a large majority agree. A Pew Research poll from 2013 showed that 85 percent of Americans support increased background checks, and 80 percent are in favor of preventing people with mental illness from purchasing guns. However, Republicans continue to reject policies that would achieve both of those goals. This most recent example is an unfortunate and alarming indicator of what could be coming during the Trump administration.

There is a case that can be made in support of the Republican argument that the policy was unfair and far-reaching. Some Republicans were concerned that citizens with low-level mental illness, such as anxiety, would be denied their Second Amendment rights. The reality is that this is merely a façade by congressional Republicans, and yet another example of the party refusing to work towards any form of solution for this concerning issue. President Obama tailored the legislation to ensure that the only people placed on the database were those who are truly incapable of managing their own finances, a fair indicator of mental competence.

This is not an attack on the Second Amendment, but rather an effort to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL) commented on the vote, saying that, “If there are problems with this rule, they can be addressed by fixing it. But the Republican response is always repeal first.” Republicans can continue to champion their support of the Second Amendment, but the unfortunate truth is that they are irresponsibly repealing important legislation without any form of replacement plan.

I fear that Republican inaction on not only common sense gun legislation, but also on addressing the mental illness aspect of this issue, could lead America down a dark path. Our country appears to be in a perpetual pattern of mourning tragic gun-related incidents, only to wake up the next morning with no solutions or answers. From this vote, among others, it is clear that congressional Republicans are preventing us from taking necessary steps to quell this very real problem within our nation. It can no longer be acceptable to delay action until after a tragedy.