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Littwin: The U.S. Senate says it’s looking for ways to address gun violence. Anyone wanna bet?

It’s a test of American democracy. And let’s just agree that there have been times in U.S. history when democratic principles were a better bet.

Mike Littwin

It seems like a dream. In response, at least in part, to the gut-wrenching murder of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, legislation has been proposed — and is actually expected to pass  — that would place severe limitations on the guns most likely to be used in mass murders and also those most closely associated with the far greater problem of everyday gun violence.

It may seem like a dream, but it’s actually wide-awake Canada, our friendly neighbor to the north, where most people look at the cascading U.S. gun violence and not only gasp in horror — for the record, that would be the extent of the American response — but are actually taking steps to address it.

The legislation would put a freeze on importing, buying or selling handguns. In other words, Canada is not banning handguns, but is putting a hard cap on them. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already pledged to ban 1,500 kinds — who knew there were so many? — of military-style assault rifles and will begin a mandatory buyback program at the end of the year. There was a bill last year to make the buyback voluntary, but it didn’t pass.

The new legislation would also expand background checks, require that gun magazines be limited to five bullets, and put in place a so-called red flag law, which allows judges in certain cases to temporarily remove guns from people who may be a threat to themselves and/or others.

For any Americans unfamiliar with the concept, these are what we call common-sense, gun-safety laws. Of course, who has a long enough memory to recall a time when “Congress” and “common sense” could be used in the same sentence? I mean, without one or the other being a punch line? 

Of course, certain U.S. lawmakers see it somewhat differently. Here’s a sample reaction from the far-right fringes: “The dystopian future Trudeau is manifesting in Canada is coming to America if US citizens don’t get involved,” tweeted Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky. He didn’t mention the dystopian present in Uvalde, Texas.

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And for you irony fans, Canada will also beef up its border security — at our border — because it’s believed that many of the guns used illegally in Canada are smuggled from the U.S., where, of course, we have plenty of them. I assume Donald Trump and the Trumpists will blame undocumented Mexican immigrants for the smuggling, which they could presumably do when taking breaks from raping American women. I’ll also assume that Canada won’t be building a wall and demanding that we pay for it.

The move to strengthen gun laws in Canada began two years ago after 22 people were slaughtered in Nova Scotia. Canadians were so outraged that an assault-rifle ban was announced just weeks later.

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So, why should we care what Canada is doing? For a couple of reasons, I guess. One is that Canadians have their own long-standing gun culture — not unlike ours — but were moved to confront it after a few horrific mass shootings. Another is that they’re worried about being infected by the contagion of mass murders across the border. Gun violence is on the rise in Canada, although nothing like it is in the United States, where your likelihood of being killed with a gun is eight times higher. Of course, the U.S. rate is 100 times higher than in the United Kingdom. 

“We need only look south of the border to know that if we do not take action, firmly and rapidly, it gets worse and worse and more difficult to counter,” Trudeau said when asked if the legislation goes too far.

Meanwhile, back in the States …

There is actually some thought that post-Uvalde, post-Buffalo, the United States could actually do something. Not much, of course. Not much at all. But something.

If I were a betting man, and I have been on occasion, I would bet that the bipartisan group of eight senators charged with finding a bill that could get 60 votes in the Senate will come up empty or nearly so. But Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), who has probably been the most outspoken senator, post-Sandy Hook, in trying to get Congress to move on gun-safety laws, says he’ll welcome any movement these days.

Last week, Murphy gave an emotional “What are we doing here?” speech from the Senate floor, basically demanding to know why his colleagues would go to the trouble to get elected to the U.S. Senate if they weren’t willing to take on a crisis like gun violence in America.

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On Sunday, he told CBS News’ Face the Nation, “Republicans are not willing to support everything that I support, like banning assault weapons, but I really think that we could pass something that saves lives and breaks this logjam that we’ve had for 30 years, proving to Republicans that if you vote to tighten the nation’s gun laws, the sky doesn’t fall for you politically.”

What matters, of course, is whether Republican senators — and at least 10 would have to sign on to overcome a filibuster — see the political climate the same way Murphy does. Remember, most of these GOP senators are already on record as climate-change deniers. 

But the attempt will be to agree on some low-hanging fruit, find those issues with demonstrably widespread support. Among those are expanded background checks — which, in reality, are opposed only by people willing to publicly associate themselves with the likes of Dudley Brown, Lauren Boebert and Wayne LaPierre — a red flag law much like Colorado’s, maybe even something addressing safe gun storage. 

Republicans, of course, want to “harden” schools, many of which have been hardened for years. Maybe Ted Cruz and the others would like to see schools turned into bunkers. Or maybe, in the big cities, we could have classes alongside the trains in the subway system.

And, of course, there’s mental health, which most Democrats would love to see get more money.  Republicans like to blame mental illness for our many mass murders despite the fact that the great majority of mentally ill people are not violent. And despite the fact that many Republicans are unwilling to actually spend the money needed to treat those with mental illness, whether violent or not.

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Another group that is rarely connected to violence would be America’s teachers, most of whom reject the idea of being armed — you know, the good teacher with a white board and a gun — in order to repel any heavily-armored, heavily-armed would-be mass murderers. It’s ridiculous, of course. We saw 19 Texas cops— presumably good guys, presumably with guns — do nothing for more than an hour as children died.

The idea of arming teachers is all a diversion, just like talk of mental illness, something for Republicans to say so they don’t have to talk about the 40,000-plus Americans who die each year from firearms wounds. That incudes, of course, suicides, homicides and accidental shootings.

But here’s why I’m betting Congress will do nothing. It’s the slippery-slope rule, which apparently also applies in the flatlands. If you pass one gun-safety law, any gun-safety law, according to the NRA and its allies in Congress and statehouses across America, that means gun-grabbing Democrats will turn the U.S. into — I don’t know — Canada.

And is that really the kind of climate we want to live in?


Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.


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