But Not All Threats of Violence Are Equal
It’s worth recalling that all responses to threats are not equal.
Now that Congress has reached a bipartisan compromise to take some action, any action, involving guns and threats to students and others, we should seek some context. As a nation, we took action, however watered down that was the first acknowledgment in a generation of lawmaking about gun violence.
Even so, the Supreme Court is poised to deliver a ruling squashing state limits on concealed carry requirements for guns, a judgment that will bear violent fruit on the streets of our cities. At the same time, in Ohio, state officials have moved to arm schooteachers with a minimum 8-hour gun training course and 16 hours of shooting practice.
As described, the compromise measure—which still must pass both the House and Senate—would offer support and money toward mental health, increase funding for school security, expand background checks for gun buyers under the age of 21 to include juvenile justice records and close the so-called boyfriend loophole.
The compromise continued to draw plenty of political sniping from the right, which sees it as an abridgment of gun rights, and from the left, which is seeking effective limits on guns. Neither side is happy; both acknowledge that the main driver here is to repel voter dissatisfaction that we obviously have a continuing problem with mass attacks and need to show acknowledgment.
The bill still is in the writing stage, and there is plenty of time for discord to rise anew to derail it. By the way, none of the 10 Republican senators who worked on the deal are facing reelection in 2022; four of them plan to retire.
Save Schools vs. Protected Justices
Now consider this:
Immediately after a lone guy with weapons near the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh called 911 and surrendered—before undertaking his planned attack—Congress took up the cause of defending justices’ homes with armed personnel. No prayers, no tut-tuts, just action.
Indeed, when action didn’t come within a day or two, Republican legislators were all over Speaker Nancy Pelosi for any delay, even though her delay was aimed at extending protections to judicial staff and clerks. It was passed anyway, and today there are guards outside the homes of nine justices—good guys with guns in residential neighborhoods.
There was plenty of criticism from the right even for The New York Times for not publishing on its front page a report on the arrest of this young would-be shooter. Actually, a short version was on the front page, referring readers to the story inside, as is a normal practice for the dozen or so stories not selected for Page One. The criticism was that it got inferior play because Kavanaugh is a conservative-leaning justice. It is much more likely that it ran inside because no shooting had occurred.
I’m all in favor of measures to protect these judges whose decisions are almost universally controversial settlements of opposing views of the law. But I’m left scratching my head about why we’re hearing a different story from Congress and Republicans when the possibility of violence concerns a justice and not innocent school students.
There was no immediate move to arm the justices, there were no calls to redesign their houses with a single, impenetrable door, no denial about the dangers of a nut with a gun. Without diagnosing the suspect in this case, the descriptions of what had brought him from California to Kavanaugh’s neighborhood and his acknowledgment of walking away after texting his sister and calling 911 suggested someone less than fully in control—perhaps a case for referral to a mental health practitioner.
Shifting to Mental Health
Rather than limit weapons, the gun liberation argument says, we should be flagging those who are a danger to society. Just how to do that is someone else’s job. Through this compromise bill, Congress wants it to be the job of mental health practitioners and teachers.
Naturally, the entire mental health frame depends on individuals turning to a counselor or family member for help. Then come the issues of access, from insurance coverage to affordability to having enough counselors available. As one with insurance, I checked recently with a large facility in my city to learn that there is a wait of eight weeks or more to get even an initial assessment conversation.
Part of the attack on the gun violence compromise involved insisting that red-flag laws of the sort being encouraged violate individuals’ due process.
Concern for individual rights from the most conservative members of Congress is most welcome: After all, these are people clearly willing to tell us what books we can read and what teachers can say in the classroom and willing to punish companies who do not agree with their positions in the culture wars.
And sudden concern for more access to mental health services nationwide is also more than welcome in a society in which we have lost the ability to speak to one another civilly.
Right-wing commentator Auron MacIntyre tweeted, “If they pass red flag laws, any disagreement with the ruling ideology will be a red flag.” He also criticized Republicans for supporting what he sees as a “functional repeal of the Second Amendment.” Conservative podcaster Ben Shapiro also worried that red flag laws could be weaponized to serve a political agenda.
This is why the language of the bill may be important to determine whether anything systemic will change with this compromise. In the meantime, the only effective gun violence response will depend on who is seen as the target.