Guest column: Republican Senators, have you no sense of decency?


If I could go before the United States Senate today, where gun safety laws will soon be debated but are not expected to pass, I would ask the Republican Senators the question that Attorney Joseph Welch asked Republican Senator Joe McCarthy in 1954, “Have you no sense of decency?” This question kept reverberating in my head after the Uvalde shooting, and there is a connection.

Senator Joe McCarthy ruined the lives of countless people in the early to mid-fifties by accusing them of being Communists, and today Republicans are again destroying the lives of countless people who lose children and other family members to gun violence. I would ask this question because, apparently, the Republicans in the Senate do not have a sense of decency. They have no shame in refusing to vote for any reforms at all that would lower the largest cause of death in children in this country.

And why? Republican Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota had no shame in saying that if he supported gun reform, “most [voters] would probably throw me out of office.” He is saying in effect that to ensure he stays in office he is willing to pay the price of 45,000 people dying every year by gun violence and do nothing to change that. Nothing!

Cramer is not alone. We cannot get 10 votes from Republican Senators to restore the ban on assault weapons, or any other reform, even background checks. We had a ban on assault weapons for 10 years until George W. Bush let it expire in 2004. He could have extended it. Mass shootings went down 17% during that time. I don’t think I could sleep at night if I were a U.S. Senator afraid to vote for gun safety legislation because I might lose votes or lose money from the National Rifle Association for my next campaign.

It’s a Judas bargain. They are betraying the trust of the American people, especially children who are afraid to go to school. In no other developed country are their leaders making this Devil’s deal with a gun lobby, or with constituents who are in the minority. No other developed country has anywhere near the death toll from guns that we have. The U.S. has 79 deaths by guns per 100,000 a year. Great Britain has four per 100,000. Think of it. The majority of the people in this country do not want to live this way and neither do I.

It is possible to go up against the Gun Lobby and the NRA. As a nation we went up against the Tobacco Lobby that lied to us for years about the effects of tobacco. The gun manufacturers lie to us too, saying, “The government will come and take your guns if you give an inch on reform” This is simply not true. If Republican senators have any compassion for our children and other loved ones who are being killed daily, they can do something.

They can raise the age to purchase a firearm to the same age as for drinking, 21. They can ban assault weapons and offer buy backs to reduce their number. They can require universal background checks and put red flags in place. Yes, they can make mental health more available too. But as a psychologist, I can tell you that mental health is not the main problem.

Teenage boys, I know several, think that AR-15 rifles are cool. They have them. It only takes a teenager who is radicalized to believe, like the 18-year-old in Buffalo, New York, that he’s going to be “replaced” unless he kills any number of black and brown people. He’s not mentally ill. He’s been radicalized, and he can buy an assault weapon.

In my early twenties, I watched attorney Joseph Welch angrily ask this question of Senator McCarthy before an amazed television audience, “Have you no sense of decency.” It ended McCarthy’s reckless havoc. He died three years later a broken man. Yes, there is a gun culture in this country just as there was a strong anticommunist movement in the fifties.

But I think the country is saying, as Joseph Welch said back then, we’ve had enough of so many lives being upended with no effort to stop it. If nineteen good men with guns could not stop a shooter with an assault weapon before he killed 19 children, it’s time to lay that untrue NRA slogan to rest. Congress has the power to change this, but only if there is a greater sense of decency among our Republican senators that we have seen up to now.

Sarah Arnold, Ph. D. is a psychologist in Topsham.

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