Congress Keeps Shooting Blanks at Gun Issue


It’s tragically ironic that I left Congress to write novels, and that my next book deals with why Congress does nothing on the issue of gun violence.

I started writing my book in December 2012, as I sat in my local office in Hauppauge. The Sandy Hook massacre had killed 26 children and adults. I watched families clutching each other. Watched tears stream down then-President Obama’s face. Watched the pundits and commentators assure us that Congress would act. Finally. That the murders of our precious children would not be in vain.

I knew back then that I’d be inundated with questions about how Congress would respond. Would it enhance background checks? Reinstate the assault weapons ban? Limit magazine capacities?

I was confident that we would do something. Doing nothing when our schoolchildren are massacred would be the most shameless act of cowardice in recent congressional history. Back then, I couldn’t believe that Congress would put political calculation ahead of kids.

I was wrong. We did nothing. Zero.

Since then, there have been 200 other school shootings that killed 400 people, according to the Gun Violence Archive. And what has Congress done? Again, nothing.

I witnessed hard lessons. About Political Action Committee (PAC) contributions, voter  intensity, base politics, the might of gun manufacturers, the competition within the gun lobby. So I wrote.

Sitting through hearings and markups and the most asinine debates imaginable. Hearing some of my colleagues defend the rights of suspected terrorists to carry weapons instead of the right of students not to be shot in their classrooms. Listening, while almost punching through my keyboard, as my colleagues explained that this was a mental health problem while doing nothing to increase resources for, mental health.

In this case, their cheap talk was deadly. I became pretty skeptical. Snarky, actually.

I hope that this time the voices of high school students will carry from Florida to Washington, D.C. and across the nation. I hope they finally shame Congress into action.

And I hope you join them. Because many of my former colleagues are betting that you’ll be drowned out. That you’ll turn this page, click another link, become distracted by the latest presidential tweet.

Your voice won’t make a difference everywhere. There are places where pro-gun gerrymandering might as well have shaped congressional districts in the shape of an AR-15 assault rifle. So work on the state level to elect officials who will draw better districts  after the 2020 census — districts where you might actually see bumper stickers that say “I Remember Parkland & I Vote.”

Just as important, understand that states are filling the policy vacuum created by a currently obstinate Congress and spend time and money on those local races as well. Or, you can keep doing what you’ve been doing: Recycle your rage at the deaths of our children. Elect the same people, watch the same press conferences, feel the same shock, sadness, anger. And, before long, scratch your heads trying to remember what ever happened at Parkland.

Steve Israel’s next novel “Big Guns” may be ordered at repsteveisrael.com or directly from your local bookstore.