guns

Susan J. Demas: Under Republicans, the Center Doesn’t Hold

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Last week, yet another troubled man armed with an AR-15 assault weapon committed mass murder.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17, mostly children, is the 1,607th mass shooting since a gunman blew away 27, mostly first-graders, in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

Gun control debates typically go nowhere afterward. Most Republicans roundly reject mainstream, popular and common-sense ideas like universal background checks, banning assault rifles and regulating online, private and gun show purchases.

It’s not a mystery why.

The powerful NRA has become completely unhinged, routinely releasing violent, apocalyptic videos urging people to embrace “the clenched fist of truth” against the “madness” of progressive protests against President Trump and ominously warning the New York Times: “We’re coming for you.”

And so the mainstream conservative position is now to reject nearly any regulation on personal gun ownership. In Michigan, Senate Democrats couldn’t even get domestic abusers and those on the no-fly list banned from the GOP’s “guns everywhere” concealed carry expansion legislation.

There’s hope for some small changes after Parkland, as student survivors like Emma Gonzalez are speaking out, even as some right-wing lunatics spread disgusting conspiracy theories about them.

“Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have ever been done to prevent this, we call BS. They say that tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS,” Gonzalez declared at a gun-control rally just two days after her classmates were murdered.

But Trump is already pushing cockamamie ideas like arming teachers, which doesn’t inspire confidence.

The problem is GOP has veered so far right on issues that reasonable reforms seem like pipe dreams. It’s almost impossible to win Republican primary today supporting abortion rights and it’s fashionable to say you don’t even believe in exceptions for rape, incest and the mother’s life. The President Reagan approach to immigration is now “amnesty” and most Republicans say nothing as ICE tries to round up parents dropping their kids off at school. The market-based approach of Obamacare was derided as socialism.

Perhaps this ideological inflexibility emerged from how the GOP approaches taxes. After winning lower taxes in the 80s and revitalizing their party, Republicans now see this as the prescription for any economic circumstance.

It doesn’t matter if the stock market is booming or crashing, the economy is growing or shrinking or unemployment is rising or falling. It doesn’t matter if people are hurting, roads are crumbling or schools are failing. Cutting taxes is the only way to go. Those who say maybe enough’s enough are shunned.

So realistically, the only way to enact what used to be considered moderate policy on pressing moral issues like guns, immigration and health care is to elect Democrats in Washington, Lansing and other state capitols.

The center doesn’t hold right now.

We need to stop pretending that it can, just because U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) did the bare minimum of his job and met with his constituents after a massive tragedy at the CNN town hall. We need to stop pretending that vague tweets from the president about saving the Dream Act, which protects undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, mean anything after he unilaterally killed it last year.

I know and like many Republican legislators personally. I’ve sometimes been one of those “both sides” columnists. But the GOP, as an institution, has shown little ability for compromise and moderation in the last decade. And its embrace of Trump’s nativism, sexism and corruption will go down as a very dark chapter in our country’s history.

As the mother of two teenagers who I pray never experience anything like Parkland, I say enough. As the mother of an LGBT high-schooler who was mercilessly bullied by Trump-supporting upperclassmen after the election, I say enough.

And as someone who believes in those quaint notions of liberty, equality and justice for all, I say enough.

Dante famously wrote that “the hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.” That’s where we are right now. No one should pretend otherwise.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: Congressional Shooting Shows Why Domestic Abusers Don’t Deserve Guns

Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas

The horrific shooting at a Republican congressional softball practice outside Washington, D.C., hit especially close to home in Michigan.

Three members of Congress were present and thankfully unhurt — U.S. Reps. Mike Bishop (R-Rochester), John Moolenaar (R-Midland) and Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet). But one of the five people shot was Michigan native Matt Mika, a former state and congressional legislative staffer.

The tragedy has inspired rare bipartisan unity, with touching speeches from U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif).

In the days and weeks that follow, the shooting will inevitably spark debates on heated partisan rhetoric, security for politicians and guns. (Indeed, they’re all in full swing on social media, but hopefully the national dialogue will improve from all-caps rants from randos with anime avatars on Twitter).

At this point, few people believe we’ll ever see any common ground on gun rights in this country. If the brutal 2012 murders of angelic first-graders in Newtown, Conn., didn’t move the needle with gun rights advocates in Congress, it’s not clear what will.

But there is something about this week’s shooting that is all too familiar. The alleged gunman, James Hodgkinson, had a history of beating his daughter and other young women. Researchers note that a history of domestic violence is a key predictor of violent recidivism.

Hodgkinson was no stranger to the justice system. But the Daily Beast reports that his history “did not rise to the level to prohibit him from legally owning a firearm.”

I am not sure who on God’s green earth can argue without vomiting that someone who beats their spouse or kids should have the inalienable right to carry a firearm.

But don’t take my word for it. Talk to another Michigan member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn). She’s not anti-Second Amendment; her husband, former Dean of the House John Dingell, is an avid hunter. But Congresswoman Dingell knows firsthand what it’s like to live with a violent gun owner.

In a 2012 op-ed for the Washington Post, she somberly detailed the night that her father almost shot her mother while she tried to wrest the gun away, while noting it wasn’t an isolated incident:

“I will not forget the nights of shouting. The fear. The dread that my brother, my sisters and my parents would die. I will not forget locking ourselves in closets or hiding places hoping we wouldn't be found. Calling for help, but finding no one willing to help, to acknowledge the problem, or intervene. We survived that occasion, physically. Emotionally, I am not so sure.”

Just as Dingell was preparing to be sworn into her first term in Congress in 2015, she shared her experience again with Gov. Rick Snyder. The Legislature had sent him a bill that would have allowed domestic abusers to obtain a concealed pistol license. She urged the governor to veto it and he did.

Now the state House has, once again, passed a string of legislation liberalizing gun laws, and the stage could be set for another showdown between Snyder and GOP lawmakers.

Sadly, there’s been scant interest in efforts barring domestic abusers from owning firearms. No one should bet their inheritance on the congressional softball shooting changing the debate in Washington or Lansing.

But it’s rather unbelievable that many politicians are willing to go to such lengths to protect the rights of those who bloody those dearest to them, which is often a prelude to their crimes against others. It might be worth thinking about why that’s a price they’re willing to have us all pay.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.