Beneath the still-gleaming white dome, the US Capitol’s new generation of promising leaders are jockeying for position, staking their turf, marking their hydrants and swapping last-minute promises for next year’s power.
Today we will mainly be speaking to just one category of our promising new leaders: The ones who want the American populace to know how proud they will be to lead the party of law-and-order.
These new congressional leaders are proud to give strong, steadfast support to America’s police, the first responders we can call urgently to save our loved ones from danger.
Week after week, as prospective congressional leaders quietly worked behind the scenes to climb the leadership ladder, the US was dominated by horrific news of mass shootings -- at a school, or a mall, or a club. And those who hoped to see a solution by watching the US Congress in action saw only congressional inaction. Yet again.
For years, we have watched in frustration as the leaders of the party of law-and-order failed to respond to the 911 calls from the police chiefs who just want Congress to help them keep us safe. The International Association of Chiefs of Police website carries five pages of firearms policy proposals “to safeguard the public and those who put their lives on the line each day to ensure the safety and wellbeing of communities.”
The nation’s police chiefs, who command the front lines in the battle for law-and-order, have proposed 13 “common sense policies that would assist in reducing gun violence, while upholding the Second Amendment” to the US constitution, which guarantees Americans’ right to possess firearms.
The police chiefs urged a renewal of the ban on the US manufacturing of semi-automatic assault weapons, plus a halt to the production of ammunition magazines (except for military and police use) that carry more than 10 rounds of ammunition. In 1994, Congress enacted an assault weapons ban that was led, in large part, by Sen. Joe Biden, D-Delaware. But in 2004, the ban was allowed to expire by President George W. Bush. Biden has said he wants to reimpose the ban.
“While the ban was in place, it was remarkably effective in reducing the number of crimes involving assault weapons,” the police chiefs’ website states. “In the period of the ban, (1994-2004) the proportion of assault weapons traced to crimes fell by a dramatic 66 percent. Semiautomatic assault weapons are routinely the weapons of choice for gang members and drug dealers. They are regularly encountered in drug busts and are all too often used against police officers. … The criminal use of semiautomatic assault weapons pose a grave risk to our officers and the communities they are sworn to protect.”
The police chiefs also propose: a prohibition on mail-order sales of bulletproof vests and body armor, bans on the sales of armor-piercing ammunition and tracer ammunition, a five-day waiting period for handgun purchases, a closing of the gun show loophole so that the background checks and waiting period regulations that apply to gun stores will also apply to gun shows. The chiefs also oppose efforts to remove silencers (suppressors) from being registered under the National Firearms Act.
You may have noticed that, while discussing the “party of law-and-order,” we have not mentioned the names of either of America’s major political parties. Until now. During the era of Vietnam War protests, Richard Nixon worked to convince the nation that Republicans deserved the designation. (He had help: As police efforts to clear street protests turned violent, protesters famously called police “pigs.”) Ronald Reagan worked to solidify the Republican Party claim. (And most recently, protests of deadly police abuses spawned chants of “Defund the police!”)
But most recently, America’s police chiefs saw that their reforms were largely championed by Democrats -- and opposed by many Republicans, who followed the views and campaign money of the gunmakers and the National Rifle Association. But be wary of glib generalities.
After a 1989 school shooting in Stockton, California, Reagan, an ex-president for just 17 days, said: “I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense. But I do believe that an AK-47 … is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home.” And in 1994, Reagan, joined two fellow ex-presidents, Republican Gerald Ford and Democrat Jimmy Carter, in signing a letter supporting a ban on domestic manufacture of “assault weapons.”
It is time for our new congressional leaders to make history by bringing a new era of unity to our tired old partisan gun politics. Be it resolved: The “Party of Law-and-Order” is now officially bipartisan. Better yet, above politics. Let the coming out party begin.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. -- Ed.
(Tribune Content Agency)