I don’t know who said “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” but I doubt if that person got a look at the Senate’s “framework” for gun safety in the wake of the Robb Elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Tex. The bipartisan agreement is as likely to stop the next school shooting as an AR-15 would be at stopping the 1st Armored Division. That’s because the framework feels more like a Republican attempt to avoid the issue of gun violence than a Democratic attempt to solve it.
To be fair, the agreement does represent progress: The last time Congress got it together to pass significant new gun safety legislation, O.J. Simpson and Forrest Gump were on the run. And, taken as a whole, it will likely save lives, because literally anything we can do to further restrict access to firearms will save lives. The framework could have said everybody except people named Bob can own a gun,” and it would still save lives, because there are almost 100,000 “Bob”s and I’m sure some of them should not have access to guns.
Still, it won’t come close to solving the problem of mass shootings; it doesn’t even look like it’s intended to try to solve that problem.
The framework, which was hammered out by 10 Republican and 10 Democratic senators, calls for increased focus on mental health in schools and more “security,” which I assume will devolve into hiring more police officers to cower in hallways when it’s time to stop children from being shot to death but get real brave when it’s time to harass Black and brown students. The framework also allows for denying gun ownership to people with a history of domestic violence, and not just spouses but also partners and significant others. The legislation could widen the definition of a gun “seller,” which would trigger a wider application of background checks. And the framework talks about having something called “enhanced” background checks of people who are 18–21 years of age… as if there is ever any good reason to have 18-to-21-year-olds hold a weapon of war outside of a war (note: I also don’t think we should send 18-to-21-year-olds to war).
These proposals are weak compared to the (now defunct) assault weapons ban Bill Clinton signed in 1994. They read so much like a Republican wish list I’m surprised Ted Cruz’s campaign against doors didn’t make the cut. I can imagine some people touting this deal because it gives Republicans things that they say they want; this way, they’ll argue, when it inevitably fails, it will force them to see that they need to do more. It’s kind of a Montessori approach to gun regulation where you let the Republican children make their own mistakes. The framework is an ice cream sundae of Republican gun wishes sitting on a bed of responsible Democratic kale and garnished with media-friendly spaghetti. The hope is that when everybody digs in and realizes it’s disgusting, the adults can come in and fix the meal.
My problem with accepting that narrative is that in between Republicans getting everything they want and Republicans being shown that everything they want is ineffective are more dead children. More gun violence, more mass shootings, more murdered innocents—that’s the cost of putting together a piece of legislation that won’t do much beyond showing that it’s too weak to succeed.
There’s also the opportunity cost of this proposal. Passing a bill along the lines of this framework will still require a lot of political capital from President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party. They will still have to make faux-bipartisan kissy faces with Republicans up for reelection who just want this issue to go away so they can get back to rending their garments over gas prices. Meanwhile, Republicans who don’t vote for it will still barnstorm the country accusing Democrats of “taking away guns” even though this framework won’t actually stop an 18-year-old psychopath from getting a weapon and destroying lives. Democrats will get all the “blame” for trying to act responsibly—all for a piece of legislation that won’t actually solve anything.
I’m not trying to be an enemy of “the good”; I’m just unwilling to let Republicans gaslight me over what “good” is supposed to look like. We don’t have “enhanced” background checks when an 18-year-old wants to buy a beer or a pack of cigarettes; instead, we just don’t sell them the product. And we don’t need more police to harass Black and brown kids while failing to stop mass murderers with legally obtained guns, ammunition, and body armor. Dozens of other nations have figured out what to do. Why do we continue to be the nation that refuses to learn?
I get why some Democratic senators will support this legislation nonetheless. A guy like Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who has dedicated his career to this issue, cannot let this opportunity pass. He has to try. We all have to try.
But we don’t have to fool ourselves. Yes, the Senate framework will save lives, but, no, it does not and will not keep children safe at schools. Or shoppers safe at Supermarkets. Or worshippers safe at churches and synagogues. Or citizens safe from gang violence. Or women or members of the LGBTQ community safe from predatory men. Or anybody safe from the NRA’s bloodthirsty commitment to arms sales.
Democrats and Republicans can compromise in the Senate, but reality does not care about these political machinations. The mass killings will sadly continue, until the Senate improves its definition of what is possible.