Column: Profiles in Cowardice

The U.S. Senate has announced that it is on the verge of a monumental breakthrough: adoption of a bill that affects people with or seeking to acquire guns. This has been touted by the Senate leadership as the most substantial change in the gun laws in thirty years. Given that the average age of a U.S. Senator is 64 and the oldest member, Diane Feinstein, is 88, Americans must forgive the absent-mindedness and tendency to exaggerate of our senescent elected officials. Twenty five years ago Congress passed and the President signed the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, which banned the sale of military-style assault weapons for ten years. This was the often referenced assault weapons ban. It expired in 2004, eighteen years ago. That it will ever be resurrected is unlikely.

Most of the mass murders in America over those eighteen years have involved these military-style, semiautomatic rifles. It is safe to wager that weapons that can decapitate schoolchildren at close range, as was the case in Uvalde, Texas, will continue to be the preferred tool of the subhumans who gun down our most vulnerable and innocent citizens. Other nations have had similar tragedies and have quickly enacted laws restricting access to these weapons. Our country essentially toyed with the idea for ten years of enacting a variety of measures that reduced mass casualty events in other industrialized countries. When the assault weapons ban in the U.S. expired, our Congress wished its citizens, “Good Luck,” and offered no measures to protect us from the “bad guys.”

The preferred targets for these monsters with guns are school children, prayer groups, shoppers, and unskilled foreign workers, all definitely not military targets. We, the people of the United States, have punished legislators who have tried to resurrect the assault weapons ban by kicking them out of Congress and excluding them from the White House. We love our children and some of our neighbors, but we cling to weapons that pose a considerable risk to these innocents and actually provide no real security to those of us who possess these awful devices.

People intent upon killing our fellow citizens do not usually announce the date, time, and place of their assault.  Consequently, the possession of assault weapons by “the good guys” does nothing to reduce the risk to our families and friends. Despite their popularity among gun enthusiasts, assault style weapons are not practical for target practice, hunting, or self-defense. Despite the oft-repeated, but treasonous, suggestion that these weapons will help stave off an overbearing government assault on our liberties, the truth is that these lethal weapons are no match for the armaments available to a real army.

The majority of Americans are appalled by the easy access the evil or deranged amongst us have to these weapons. With every mass shooting, there is a predictable outcry for our legislators to do something to protect us from this absurd carnage. Our legislators assure us that they share our thoughts and prayers for the victims, but they are apparently unwilling to boycott the fundraisers that keep them so busy. They know the uproar will subside within a few days of each shooting, and that subsidies from the gun lobby will continue to arrive in the mail as long as they do nothing of consequence. The latest bill posing as a step toward reining in the madness is less than nothing.  It is an insult to every American who has lost a child or other loved one in a mass shooting.

Our Senators do nothing because they fear losing their positions. Even the current pusillanimous measure under discussion only has the support of 10 Republicans, 5 of whom are retiring and none of whom is up for re-election in the near term. Democratic Senators are expected to support the measure, but that is more wishful thinking than a certainty. They enjoy the perks and privileges of being a Senator as much as their Republican colleagues. Passing laws that might keep teenagers who have had no firearms training or psychological screening from getting high-capacity magazines and weapons that can easily be converted to fully automatic firearms is too risky. Passing laws that might restrict access to military equipment to nonmilitary and non-law enforcement citizens is unthinkable. Senators might lose the support of lobbyist who would, in turn, pressure other Senators to undermine their colleagues’ chances for re-election. 

With most Senators retaining their positions for at least two terms (12 years), getting forced out of office after just one 6 year term could be emotionally traumatic. 74 of our current 100 senators are enjoying their second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh term in that position. As long as they conform to leadership dictates, they face little or no re-election challenges. Senator Leahy of Vermont has enjoyed his seat in the Senate chamber for over 47 years. Senator Grassley of Iowa arrived just 41 years ago. Even the pro-segregation Senator Strom Thurmond got to espouse his racist views for 48 years in that hallowed chamber. He earned his salary as a Senator by staging a record-setting filibuster lasting 24 hours to derail a civil rights bill intended to reduce discriminatory practices targeting African-Americans.

The men and women we elect to Congress are supposed to be working for all of us, not just for the special interest groups and wealthy one-percent of America. Unfortunately, many talk of courage when they are campaigning and fail to exhibit any after they are elected. If they are unwilling to grow spines and risk their jobs to protect us from the AR-15 wielding fools who get aroused by bloodshed, they could at least establish a fund to cover the funeral expenses of the children, parents, and siblings shot down by weapons designed to pierce body armor and shred human flesh.  We have learned to expect little more from these ‘”representatives.”

Dr. Lechtenberg is an Easton resident who graduated from Tufts University and Tufts Medical School in Massachusetts and subsequently trained at The Mount Sinai Hospital and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan.  He worked as a neurologist at several New York Hospitals, including Kings County and The Long Island College Hospital, while maintaining a private practice, teaching at SUNY Downstate Medical School, and publishing 15 books on a variety of medical topics. He worked in drug development in the USA, as well as in England, Germany, and France.

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