We Can’t Pass Common Sense Gun Laws When We Can’t Trust the Politicians Who Write Them

By Peter Wolfgang Published on June 13, 2022

“Policy matters,” a friend wrote in response to an early version of “Sandy Hook, Robb Elementary and the Horrifically Normal Standard of Mass Shootings.” I’d said that we could enact some laws and policies that would help prevent some crimes.

But we can’t stop such evil, because the evil comes from the human heart. A man who wants to kill children will always find a way to kill children. Addressing the evil within the human heart is the only truly effective way to stop such killings.

My friend continued:

Policy that makes sense in a democratic country facing a crisis matters too. So I’d offer that we should not turn away from small (policy) and large (spiritual/cosmic) shifts in this moment.

Other friends said this in different ways. One tweeted:

When it comes to responding to abortion, Catholics know we need both prayer AND action (including political action). So why do some of us struggle to see this when it comes to responding to other evils committed in our midst?

That was a common theme all over social media after the Robb Elementary murders, and remains one. In different ways, people ask the same question: Why can’t we do something?

The One Word Answer

Why can’t we do something? Why can’t we pass the common sense, middle of the road legislation so many people want? Permit me to offer an answer. In one word: Trust.

Or more precisely, the lack of it.

Let me start with the last three gubernatorial elections here in Connecticut. In 2010, Dan Malloy ran on a promise to not raise taxes. Once elected, he passed the biggest tax hike in state history. In 2014, he ran on a promise not to do it again. Once re-elected, he passed the second-biggest tax hike in state history.

In 2018, Ned Lamont ran on a promise to put tolls on roads only for trucks and not cars. Once elected, he tried to charge everyone. (In his case, the lie backfired and he couldn’t get tolls at all.)

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This happened in many other cases. In 2007, the lead activist for gay marriage told the Judiciary Committee it should approve gay marriage because it was a logical outcome of the gay co-adoption bill passed a few years earlier. One legislator turned bright red. “You said if we supported that bill, you would not use it as an argument for gay marriage,” he said, in public.

I could go on. A federal government, for instance, that refuses to police our southern border. A previous Democrat administration that refused to defend DOMA in court. The examples are endless.

A Particularly Corrupt Era

Lying is like breathing for many politicians. So is not doing one’s duty, which is a form of lying. Sure, that’s always been true. But some eras are more corrupt than others. We seem to be living through a particularly corrupt one right now.

For instance, how is there so little interest, from either party, as to what drives millions of Central Americans to our border in the first place? One side postures itself as being more humanitarian about immigrants, the other side as more concerned for our sovereignty. Neither cares about addressing the problem at its source.

Not so long ago, we had serious arguments over policy that did take up the problems at their sources. In 1987, just 35 years ago, Oscar Arias Sánchez, the president of Costa Rica, won the Nobel Peace Prize for his proposals for establishing peace in Central America, in part by rejecting American influence. The award sparked big policy debates in the U.S.

If you care about the immigrants at our southern border, whether you’re on the right or the left, you should ask why they risk so much to come to America. You should want America to do what we can to make their lives at home more livable. How to do that is a very difficult question, requiring a lot of discussion across party lines. There are no such discussions in our public life anymore.

And Gun Control?

What does this have to do with school shootings and gun control? Everything.

We can’t pass common sense, middle of the road legislation because people don’t trust each other. We don’t trust the politicians who would create and approve such laws and policies.

When a politician says, “We will go this far and no further,” Second Amendment activists are completely right not to believe them. Even if the activists accept “common sense gun control,” they can’t trust the politicians to stop there.

I carry no brief for the NRA. But it’s like “Big Tobacco.” I can’t help noticing that the target of our two-minute-hate happens to heavily contribute financially to one party and that its destruction would greatly benefit the other party.

I don’t doubt that politicians who want gun control sincerely believe it will prevent school shootings. But I think there is a lot more that goes into their calculation of what is worth crusading against and what is not. (This is true also of the politicians who’ve embraced the NRA’s rejection of gun control.)

No Clean Hands

And again, I have no beef myself with compromise. I floated one on this topic three years ago, in the article I just linked to: a ban on late-term abortions in exchange for a ban on assault weapons. It, of course, went nowhere.

Nor do I think either side comes out of this with clean hands. A Christian radio show interviewed me on the six month anniversary of Sandy Hook. When I mentioned it on FB, a gun enthusiast threw a fit. She went on and on about gun rights. The murdered children and teachers didn’t seem to be on her mind at all.

Her response was shocking. And it was also shockingly common.

But here I come full circle. Sandy Hook was evil on a cosmic scale. The political class in Connecticut reacted by reducing it to an issue of gun control and nothing more. They passed a law that would not have prevented it from happening.

That woman on my Facebook on the six month anniversary of Sandy Hook made a fool of herself. Her only care was that no one touch her stuff. But she wasn’t wrong to feel scapegoated by our politicians in the wake of Sandy Hook.

A Lot More Than Guns

It’s about a lot more than guns. The gun laws that are already on the books don’t seem to address a lot of these cases. And there is an agenda there that goes way beyond preventing school shootings. Our present political class, even more so than normal, has shown itself to be unworthy of our trust.

My own state’s Sen. Chris Murphy is the guy leading the charge. He dismissed references to mental illness by saying the difference between the U.S. and other countries (where mass shootings do not occur) is not rates of mental illness but rates of gun ownership. Ergo, it must be the guns.

But check out “Revisionist History’s” Twitter thread. He is the only one I have seen drill down on the history I have lived through. That is, mass school shootings did not become a thing until the late 1990s. Before that, almost nothing. After that, a huge spike.

So far as I am aware, gun ownership did not suddenly spike in the late 1990s. This is something else. “Something went wrong for kids born post 1975,” he writes. “And it got significantly worse for kids born 1996-2001.” Exactly.

The Deeper Crisis

And that, again, brings me full circle to what I posted yesterday. Yes, I work in policy. And yes, when it comes to mass shootings, our policy disputes are pretty darn petty. Some new policies and laws will help. But they won’t stop the evil that sends some young men into schools to kill children.

The problem is so much bigger than “the easy availability of guns.” As Revisionist History notes, “The early 1900s it was explosions and bombs there was no mass shootings.” Remember the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995? It killed 168 people, including 19 children, and injured hundreds. The main ingredients in the bomb? Fertilizer and diesel fuel.

Either we get our minds around the spiritual dimensions of this crisis or nothing else we do (or don’t do) on it will matter.


Peter Wolfgang is president of Family Institute of Connecticut Action. He lives in Waterbury, Connecticut, with his wife and their seven children. The views expressed on The Stream are solely his own.

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