WASHINGTON — “I’m not here for the sympathy,” Neil Heslin told the Senate Judiciary Committee in February. “Or the pats on the back. I’m here to speak up for my son.”
What he and other courageous shattered parents of Sandy Hook school-shooting victims got from their Senate testimony was this:
Sympathy. Pats on the back. A failed vote on a well-intentioned but hardly stringent expansion of background checks, followed by an angry lecture to Congress by the president.
And now, after nine months of agony and loss: Indifference. Dimming hopes for another vote on any measure to curb gun violence this year. And another mass killing.
There’s a good chance that in the coming months, family members of the Navy Yard shooting victims will come to Congress.
They, too, will sit in hearing rooms and testify about their pain and anger and their wan hope that from their tragedy at least something good, from a public-policy standpoint, might result.
And there’s also a good chance that they will be sympathized with, patted on the back, and ultimately ignored by the NRA’s elected minions.
The NRA loves to throw its weight around in Washington. It wields the money it gets from the gun industry and the phone calls to the Hill it commands from its members, and ignores the carnage that has resulted: More than 30,000 deaths from gun violence every year in this country.
Those senator-dialing NRA members personally, individually and collectively own that number because of the damage done by the extremists who long ago hijacked their organization.
The congressmen they buy are afraid to vote their consciences. The senators they buy talk claptrap about being careful that background checks don’t infringe on the Second Amendment. Why does the NRA’s view of the Second Amendment get to infringe on 30,000 lives a year?
By way of context, perhaps one of the reasons Great Britain is able to operate a successful public health system is they don’t have to deal with all those gunshot wounds. In 2011, the total number of gun deaths in the country was 146.
Oh, the NRA drones in Congress are not simply representing their districts and their states. Forget all that nonsense. The American people don’t want the system we’ve got. We know that, depending on which poll you favor, between 85 and 95 percent of Americans favor expanding the program of background checks before weapons can be purchased.
Oh, but that could lead to a “gun registry,” and before you know it, Attorney General Eric Holder would be on your doorstep demanding that you turn over your firearm to the government.
Here’s the real political calculus of the gun issue: Silent majorities don’t get things done.
People who favor sane gun laws need to be at least as motivated as the organization that has jammed the current system down America’s throat. They need to get involved, so the voices of the few who have lost so much will not go unanswered.
Who can forget the image of Neil Heslin as he testified, clutching the picture of himself with the little boy he will never see again, his voice thick with grief, his breath coming in heaving sobs?
Apparently, lots of people in Congress.
David McCumber is Hearst Newspapers’ Washington bureau chief.