Following a 21-gun salute from Michigan 1st Battalion 119th Field Artillery, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer told a January 3 Lansing inauguration day audience that her sights are set on gun safety.
With the help of a Democratic legislative majority, Whitmer hopes to pass new legislation aimed at curbing the number one killer of American kids — gun violence. She supports enhanced background checks for gun buyers, regulated gun storage and banning the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons used in so many of these crimes — an approach that has been effective in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and beyond.
Boasting a 7% approval rating from the National Rifle Association, Whitmer has, for the first time, a chance to advance her gun safety agenda. At the top of her list is a long overdue Red Flag law protecting potential shooters from themselves and others.
A series of statewide press conferences supporting her proposed legislation were punctuated by the testimony of an Oxford High School student who spoke eloquently about the loss of four classmates.
Whitmer’s gun safety agenda parallels the leadership of President Biden, who signed the bipartisan Safer Communities Act last summer in the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas. The legislation included $8.6 billion on community mental health programs.
Those funds are unlikely to address the range of mental illness issues suffered by NRA-funded Republican legislators who oppose renewing a ban on military style assault weapons.
They should pay attention to constituents like the 73-year-old gun owner who recently told National Public Radio:
Get rid of the AR-15s, get rid of all of that kind of stuff, and do better background checks … It's made for war. It is not made to hunt with, it is made to kill, okay? Regular people have no business owning them. That's part of the problem we have.
Fortunately this problem is highly treatable. The first step is for these GOP leaders on Capitol Hill to call their health care professional or a readily available 24-hour mental health hotline.
The intake process is quick and, thanks to HIPAA restrictions, their privacy is assured. Cost should not be an issue beyond minor deductibles and copays. In-patient care is also covered with many health plans.
Both individual counseling and group therapy are recommended options, as is telehealth, a wise choice for politicians regularly on the road. Activities such as meditation and journaling are especially helpful.
Another key step is teaching these Republicans the many benefits of mindfulness. Staying in the moment and not overreacting is a good way to avoid the panic attacks threatening any reasonable attempt to reduce the number of mass shootings.
Creating an effective treatment plan, based on evidence-based care, can be simpler than it looks. A key focus needs to be defeating continuation bias, the mistaken belief that voting against sensible gun safety legislation protects the lives of their constituents. As you can see here that isn’t working.
The working definition of this problem is the argument that selling more assault rifles to our young people is going to miraculously make our schools and streets safer. The AR-15 enthusiasts in Congress — intent on defeating President Biden’s work to outlaw weapons horrific enough to be banned in Russia — need help now.
While individual counseling is effective, group therapy is a great opportunity for our GOP representatives to rethink their untenable defense of these weapons. Senators can collectively address this American nightmare and vote to ban semi-automatic weapons without undermining a constitutional right conceived when these instruments of mass murder were unfathomable.
Via effective treatment GOP politicians will learn how to defeat passive-aggressive behavior, such as blame shifting that diverts attention from the powerful gun lobby. In the process they can resign from the dissonant NRA Greek chorus pretending that “guns don’t kill people.”
Getting past paranoid rhetoric is another key step on the road to wellness. This is hard work but, given time, Team GOP will be able to make key mental health breakthroughs leading them past false equivalencies. They will come to realize that banning the sale of military style semi-automatics will not force their loyal constituents to surrender their pistols and hunting rifles.
As part of this treatment process, it is important for Republican leaders to understand the difference between protected and unprotected airport space. Fatal airport shootings have taken place at unsecured locations in Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Houston, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Cleveland and other cities. It remains legal to carry assault rifles into some American airport terminals, restaurants and bars before entering secured areas.
Thanks to many thousands of gun seizures by TSA staff this year, there is an distinct absence of gunfire in boarding areas and on aircraft.
It’s hard to predict how long it will take for mental health care to address the chronic and deep-seated issues suffered by Republican legislators. But if they’re willing to put in the work — and their constituents hold them accountable — maybe someday elementary schools, grocery stores and parades will be as safe as airplanes they depend on to fly back and forth to Washington.
Roger Rapoport (rogerrapoport.com) is the producer of the mental health drama Coming Up For Air, Pilot Error and Waterwalk. His play Old Heart, which premiered in Detroit is on stage in Muskegon May 20, 21. His new novel Patty Hearst: A Symbiotic Love Story will be out this fall from Lexographic Press.