Editor’s Note: Douglas Heye is a CNN political commentator and ex-deputy chief of staff to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
With yet another tragic mass shooting in the books, we’ve fallen back into a familiar, almost comfortable place in Washington. Both sides, especially on social media, go into their respective corners and essentially do not come out.
On the Republican side, we tend to offer thoughts and prayers and not much else. Substantive efforts to solve the problem, whether legislatively or through regulation, are either not discussed or are not followed through. We say “Now is not the time for politics,” without saying when that time may come, and what if there is another shooting before that time.
On the Democratic side, there are immediate calls for gun control, while mocking any Republican who offers thoughts and prayers as not only insufficient, but castigating anyone who does not support the Democratic agenda on gun control as being ultimately complicit in an attack. Much of the media echoes the sentiment.
Is it any wonder nothing gets done?
Having worked in Eric Cantor’s majority leader office and, thus, tangentially with the Virginia congressional delegation, I was always struck by the reaction of colleagues whenever the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting was mentioned.
Whether a serious discussion or just a passing reference, the tone in the room always changed. Over time, I learned that it was not merely a pause to remember the victims, but a recognition of the work of so many in the immediate aftermath and how the government response to the Virginia Tech shooting was an example of how to get it right.
It was a bipartisan and multilevel effort, with then-Gov. Tim Kaine taking the lead and working with Homeland Secretary Tom Ridge, among others, to bring people together to produce real results. It resulted in legislation – signed into law by President George W. Bush and supported by both the National Rifle Association and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence – to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System by expanding the database used for screening gun purchasers.
The Department of Education clarified the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act to better transfer information across agencies and departments.
Ten years, later, it’s clear these actions – correct though they were – are not enough. Perhaps now we should admit that neither side has all the answers, but the other side just might have some.
Time and again, a shooter shows warning signs of expressing anger at the world in one form or another. Despite the warnings, another shooter, we’re told, “fell through cracks” of our warning systems.
Clearly, there are too many cracks. Plugging those cracks is doable without a wholesale confiscation of guns.
Those who support increased concealed-carry allowances and recognize that declaring a space “safe” may send the message that the place is in fact an easy target are not simply doing the bidding of pro-gun organizations. Many activists seem to mistakenly think that gun control is the only solution for immediate change. Indeed, we can take reasonable, proactive steps to help prevent future attacks, while protecting our Second Amendment rights. These need not be mutually exclusive.
Then-Gov. Kaine, mindful of how politics can quickly surround such a tragedy – an even bigger problem today – issued a stern warning following the Virginia Tech shooting, “To those who want to make this into some sort of crusade, I say take this elsewhere.”
Unfortunately, in our politics today, almost everything can become a crusade; witness the language on both sides of immigration debate, for instance. But at a time when loud voices often rule the day, more calm voices, working together to solve this and other challenges surely is a better solution.
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Perhaps paradoxically, this creates a unique opportunity for President Trump to bridge this divide. He has a credibility with his base that other Republicans do not. He is the only person positioned to garner support for a deal that will simultaneously protect public safety and the Second Amendment.