After suspect James Holmes blasted his way through the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, our collective response felt uncomfortably familiar. First, we were shocked by the news. We were stunned that this happened in a safe place. We wondered about the gunman’s motives, and felt sympathy for the victims and their families. We all know how to respond to such horrific events because we have been through the experience over and over again.
It is a ritual scenario of grieving. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Ft. Hood. Tucson. And now Aurora, Colorado, where 12 died and 58 were injured at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight.”
The next part of this pattern is the response from our leaders. Initially, politicians resist politicizing a tragedy. Then they issue a noncommittal statement of sympathy, because they are either beholden to or cowed by the National Rifle Association. And so our country will eventually move on and begin to heal… until the next mass shooting.
This continuing leadership void is grossly irresponsible. For too long, our national politicians have avoided any substantive discussion of gun control. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg got it right when he declared, “Soothing words are nice, but it’s time the two people who want to be President of the United States stand up and tell us what they’re going to do about it, because it’s obviously a problem for the country.”
Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have been fairly quiet on gun control. In 2008, candidate Obama supported a reinstatement of a ban on assault weapons that ended in 2004, but he has not taken action to renew it. Romney does not “believe in new laws restricting gun ownership and gun use.” However, as Massachusetts Governor, he signed the first state ban on assault weapons like the AR-15, which Holmes used in Aurora.
While our political leaders worry about getting on the wrong side of gun control debate, Latinos are very progressive on the issue. An April report by the Pew Center found that Latinos are more likely to favor strict gun control laws that either whites or African-Americans. Similarly, a 2011 poll done by the bipartisan Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition found that 86 percent of Hispanic voters support requiring background checks on all gun sales. Sixty-nine percent believe the laws governing the sale of guns should be stronger. Perhaps in the future, as our numbers continue to grow, Hispanics will demand laws to limit the possibility of senseless gun violence.
Yes, the Second Amendment guarantees all Americans the right to have and bear arms. But let’s take a look at its actual words: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The key words here are “well regulated.” Our founding fathers clearly recognized that there might be a need for regulation of citizens and their firearms.
A good starting point would be to revive the ban on assault weapons. No one needs a semi-automatic for hunting, self-defense, or to protect their home. These are weapons designed for war. They are the weapons of choice for drug cartels and traffickers throughout Latin America, and they come from the U.S. If Holmes had not had an AR-15 assault rifle, surely we would not have seen so many casualties in Aurora.
Right now, Americans must call upon Congress and our candidates to fully discuss gun control. A national conversation about the role of guns in our society is overdue. If we don’t have it now, we are doomed to slip back into the cycle of tragedy, shock, grief, and moving on. And that would be the most pointless, senseless outcome of all.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.