Michelle Quist: Our paralysis of action is almost worse than the shooting itself

A woman leans over to write a message on a cross at a makeshift memorial at the scene of a mass shooting at a shopping complex, Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Really, there is nothing to say. Nothing, at least, that hasn’t already been said.

Nothing that can placate the sting of death caused by senseless murder of the recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio. And California. And Florida. And Nevada. And South Carolina.

Not tragedy. Murder. The grave hath no victory, but that doesn’t do much to assuage the loss and anger of those left behind.

And we are lost. And angry.

Angry at the sick souls who perpetuate these horrific crimes. Angry at the platitudes that follow, including this one. But mostly, angry at our own failure to do anything about it.

It’s time. It’s time to do something about the mass shootings that are no longer rare analomies.

Most Americans agree — Republicans and Democrats alike — that it’s time to enact certain gun policies:

•Private gun sales and sales from gun shows should be subject to background checks.

• Mentally ill people and those who are subject to restraining orders should be barred from possessing guns.

• People on federal watch lists should be barred from buying guns.

• Age restrictions for purchasing guns should be increased.

• AR-15s, and weapons like them, should be banned. (This one has a lower percentage of agreement, but a majority agrees nonetheless.)

I recognize that some of these policy recommendations would be hard to implement. For example, how do we know who is mentally ill? What kind of diagnosis would be required? Also, criminals don’t follow laws, so why would new laws help? Finally, there are already assault weapons readily available, and it’s not practical to think we can round them all up.

But difficulties in creating solutions should not mean that we just stop creating solutions.

Die-hard constitutionalists balk at the mention of any of new gun policies. Guess what? I’m a die-hard constitutionalist. This country is unique — indeed special — because of the sacrosanct protections for citizen gun ownership embedded in the Constitution.

But many constitutional rights are restricted for legitimate reasons that are OK as long as the government follows due process. Searches and seizures are allowed if a good faith officer files a warrant and a neutral judge finds probable cause that a search is warranted. Speech can be limited if it incites violence or promotes child pornography. A person’s liberty can be encroached if they commit a crime.

We literally have an entire independent branch of government whose job it is to decide whether certain governmental actions are constitutional or not. And unconstitutional gun policies will not survive review.

Our children don’t practice earthquake drills like I did growing up in California, even though we live on a fault line that could erupt at any moment. Our children practice active shooter drills. They lock doors and hide in closets and plan escape routes. They choose desks farthest from the door. Some walk through metal detectors to enter school.

Is this the reality we want for them? And in the face of all they do, do we want them to see us doing nothing? Because it’s not important enough? Because it presumably won’t make a difference? Because Constitution?

Our paralysis of action is almost worse than the shooting itself. Almost. We — citizens of The United States of America — can’t get anything done to improve this very real problem.

Yet I know this isn’t true. I lived through 9/11. I wandered the empty, acid-smelling streets of New York City for a week after our buildings tumbled to a heap on the ground and witnessed New Yorkers taking care of each other. Strangers loving strangers.

Where’s our love for the people in El Paso? Where’s our love for the people in Dayton?

Within months of 9/11 there were new airport security regulations that we all grumbled about. In fact, I just grumbled about them last month. But we did something. Did it work? Who knows. But we took action because it was important. The military implemented Shock and Awe. Did it work? Who knows. But we took action. We created new laws set to combat terrorism at home. Did it work? Who knows. But we took action.

There are things we can do and we must do them. At the very least, we must at least try.

Michelle Quist

Michelle Quist is a columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.