By Shira Goodman
President Donald Trump addressed the nation Monday following a deadly weekend of mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, and shootings across America in cities like Chicago and Philadelphia.
Thankfully, he did not repeat his earlier tweet urging Congress to tie gun violence solutions to immigration reform. Nor did he shy away from calling out hatred and bigotry.
However, despite some important pronouncements, and vowing “to act with urgent resolve,” the president missed an opportunity to use his unique position to ensure action and change. And he missed the chance to identify with specificity the real problem: guns.
The President condemned “bigotry, racism and white supremacy,” and claimed that “hate has no place in America.” But then he failed to acknowledge that we all – himself especially – bear responsibility for rooting out hatred and fighting bigotry. After the Sikh Temple, the Charleston Church, Pulse Nightclub, the Pittsburgh Synagogue, and El Paso, we must confront the deadly link between hatred and violence and commit to disarm hate. The President failed to do so.
Trump called for bipartisan solutions to make the U.S. safer. He talked about ensuring that those intent on harm cannot access firearms. And he called for Extreme Risk Protection Order legislation to enable families to bar access to firearms by loved ones in crisis.
But even here, Trump’s focus was misplaced.
He laid blame at the feet of those he labeled “mentally disturbed.” Our gun violence problem is not a mental health problem.
Those living with mental illness represent only a small percentage of those who commit acts of violence and are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. We have a gun problem, not a mental health problem, and we need to stop scapegoating those living with mental illness.
And even in calling for important legislation, the President did not demand that the Senate return to pass bills that have been languishing since the House passed them earlier this year, bills to expand and strengthen the federal background check system. He did not demand that the Congress send him bills to sign in the coming days and weeks.
Leaders must lead. The truth is, we’ve heard this before from this President. He has called for stronger background checks and Extreme Risk Protection Order legislation since Parkland. And he has used none of the power of his office to urge their passage or to demand that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., bring these bills to a vote.
The president failed to utter five simple words: “We have a gun problem.” He should have said it. It took until number four on his list of action items to even mention guns. The second item on his list was addressing our “cultural problems,” including violent video games.
On Aug. 5, 2019, this is just willful blindness. And it’s unacceptable.
So, it will fall to the states to deal with our gun problem.
Pennsylvania is no stranger to gun violence. As we watched this deadly weekend unfold, we also marked ten years since the tragic mass shooting outside the LA Fitness in Pittsburgh. We have had more than our share of mass shootings: LA Fitness, Nickel Mines, Wilkinsburg, Tree of Life, Western Psych, and Allentown and Philadelphia this summer.
And, in 2018, more than 1600 Pennsylvanians died by guns. We have a gun problem.
Gov. Tom Wolf; House Speaker Mike Turazi, R-Allegheny, and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, should order the General Assembly back to Harrisburg to enact legislation to make us safer.
Extreme Risk Protection Order bills – with Republican prime sponsors and bipartisan support – are pending in both chambers.
The House Bill, a version of which passed out of the House Judiciary Committee last session, has been sitting for 122 days with no action this session; the Senate bill has been sitting even longer. Bipartisan background check bills are also languishing in both chambers. It is beyond time for action.
Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives failed to pass a resolution declaring June gun violence awareness month. This simple resolution was deemed “too controversial.” We can’t solve our gun problem if we won’t even admit we have a problem with guns and gun violence.
As I write this, the NRA is probably whispering in the president’s ear, and asking him to soften his already vague message, just as they did after Parkland. We can’t afford platitudes and speeches, tweets and posts that result in nothing.
It’s time for real change. If D.C. and Harrisburg won’t do it, it’s on us. We need to change who we send to there to do the work. The polls are clear: the majority of Americans want change. We can’t afford to wait anymore for those in power to deliver it.
Shira Goodman is the executive director of CeaseFirePA, a statewide organization working to end the epidemic of gun violence in the Commonwealth and the country through education, coalition-building and advocacy. She writes from Philadelphia.