Have you ever been caught unexpectedly in a downpour without your umbrella? Of course you have. We all have.
Now imagine that you are attending an open air concert and the skies open up but instead of being drenched with rain you are caught in a hailstorm of bullets coming from above. That is what happened several weeks ago at a concert in Las Vegas to hundreds of concert goers resulting in the slaughter of 58 innocent music lovers and the wounding of another 500.
Add to this catastrophe the slaughter of some 26 innocent church goers in Sutherland Springs, Texas during Sunday morning services as the walls of their church were riddled with bullets and you have the beginning of a long-awaited dialogue in Congress to finally do something to stem the tide of unfettered gun violence in this country.
On December 6th the Senate Judiciary Committee conducted a hearing to discuss the merits of two gun safety bills.
In the wake of the Sutherland Springs church massacre in which an individual who should not have been able to purchase a gun legally due to his history of domestic violence but was able to do so because of the failure of the U.S. Air Force to properly submit this information for inclusion into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, NICS, Texas Senator Jon Cornyn introduced legislation designed to strengthen this federal background check database.
The Fix NICS Act attempts to ensure that federal and state authorities accurately report relevant information, including any criminal history, into this national database which is the key tool for conducting background checks prior to the sale of guns. While the bill requires federal agencies and states to draft plans for how to better report background information to NICS and also provides resources to states to help in the reporting of felony and domestic abuse charges, the bill does not have any provision for accountability for failure by any entity to properly report information for inclusion into NICS as was the problem with the Sutherland Springs shooter. It also fails to insure that all sales of guns are subjected to the NICS background check such as gun show and internet sales.
The hearing included several witnesses including a representative from the Air Force who committed to strengthening its own system by creating three levels of checks to ensure proper input. However, without a provision requiring some degree of accountability, every entity is basically on its own to tighten its own process.
The other bill being considered is one introduced by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) regarding the Las Vegas tragedy and includes banning bump stocks, a device that, as was done in the Las Vegas massacre, turns a semi-automatic weapon into an illegal machine gun and in so doing drastically increases the rapid fire of the now-automatic weapon.
The hearing included several witnesses including a member of the ATF, which is responsible for enforcing many of our gun laws and which ruled that it does not have the authority to ban bump stocks because its authority is specific to firearms which the bump stock, itself, is not. The ATF witness testified that ATF is currently in the process of promulgating new regulations to determine if its scope can be expanded to include authority over such gun accessories as bump stocks but that process is very time consuming.
Accordingly, legislation as that proposed by Senator Feinstein is critical to addressing this situation in which a legal gun can be transformed so easily into an illegal one LEGALLY!
The witness panels, there were two, included witnesses with various perspective including a member of the FBI which is responsible for the maintenance of the NICS database. There was a somewhat interesting exchange between this witness and the senator from Louisiana, John Kennedy, who tried in vain to make the point that law-abiding gun owners should not be penalized because of the actions of criminals. He somehow wasn't able to comprehend that the NICS database is intended to identify those with criminal backgrounds and NOT law-abiding citizens. I really do wish I would have been able to answer his inane line of questioning.
The panel also included two witnesses who tried to make the argument that the current language of the Feinstein bill violates the Second Amendment based on the 2006 Supreme Court Heller case. Anyone familiar with the Heller Case and Justice Scalia's majority opinion knows it does not, but Senator Feinstein offered them the opportunity to submit preferred language as long as the goal of prohibiting the use of bump stocks to turn legal weapons into illegal machine guns is met.
The two witnesses that, in my opinion, stood far and above all the others were a woman named Heather who is a survivor of the Las Vegas massacre and Montgomery County Police’s own Chief of Police Tom Manger.
Heather's testimony was heart-wrenching and inspiring at the same time and brought tears to my eyes as she created an image of the horror she experienced firsthand that horrific night. Heather spoke of how everyone banded together to help each other in the midst of that continuing spray of bullets from above and how she found herself in the position of telling parents that their children were no longer alive as blood-soaked victims lay on her lap.
I cannot do justice to the images Heather created with her testimony so I will just leave it that anyone who listened to it who does not take action to help prevent the next Las Vegas is devoid of either a soul, a heart, a brain or all three.
As for Chief Manger, no other witness was able to put the issues in better perspective and more convincingly. His testimony cut to the heart of the issues. The Chief made it clear that there is absolutely no reasonable justification for the public to have access to automatic weapons created with the bump stock. Such weapons put the safety of Manger’s law enforcement officers in jeopardy and, in so doing, make it more difficult for his officers to protect the citizens they are sworn to protect.
Ted Cruz had brought up earlier in the hearing how, during the Sutherland, Springs massacre, it was two citizens with guns who came to the rescue before the police arrived and, in so doing, saved lives. This is very true. The point, of course, that Cruz was trying to make is that more guns means more safety.
Chief Manger, the one individual on either the panel of witnesses or the panel of questioners with direct responsibility for the safety and protection of the citizens of a local community, made it clear that it may have worked in this specific case, but citizens brandishing guns almost always makes controlling a situation by law enforcement much more challenging and difficult.
Chief Tom Manger made the residents of Montgomery County and all members of the law enforcement community proud on Wednesday, December 6th before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
I know he made me proud.