Sadly and frighteningly, it's become a routine in the United States. A domestic terrorist uses a semi-automatic weapon to attack and kill a large number of innocent people. A nation reacts with shock and outrage. Politicians put out statements. People engage in angry debate over those statements and what can be done.
This process played out again last week with the horrific shooting at a Florida high school. But what this nation needs is elected leadership willing to take action that very well may cost campaign dollars and votes.
To that end, we're looking to our local voice in Congress, U.S. Rep. John Katko, to be more than just another face in the Washington crowd. In a statement he released last week, the congressman said some things that went encouragingly further than many of his colleagues from the Republican majority in the House of Representatives and Senate.
"We need to have conversations that may make both sides of the aisle a little uncomfortable, and I’m willing to lead that effort ... During my time as Central New York’s Representative in Congress, I have become increasingly frustrated by the level of discourse that has unfolded in the wake of these horrific shootings and the failure of Republicans and Democrats alike to produce meaningful, bipartisan reforms," Katko said.
We couldn't agree more.
"The common thread in most, if not all, of these instances is mental illness," he said. "To start, I’m working alongside my colleague Rep. Grace Napolitano and the Mental Health Caucus to examine, in a bipartisan fashion, the correlation or non-correlation between mental health issues and mass shootings so that we can keep our communities safe."
That's an important and needed step forward. We hope this effort gets broadened to include the ridiculous — and damaging — prohibition on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using its resources on studying the public health damage that gun violence has inflicted in this country.
If Katko is truly to make a difference, though, he needs to be a leader in addressing another "common thread" with many of these tragedies: access to assault rifles designed to kill large numbers of people in a short amount of time.
In far too many states in this nation, people can purchase semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines that are derived from military weapons used in war. No reasonable person on the gun control side of this debate is arguing that people should be denied the right to purchase, own and use handguns and hunting guns. But the assault weapons have no place in civilians' hands.
Will Katko be smart enough to realize this reality and courageous enough to stand up to many loud voices in his party and the gun lobby? A large portion of his district is watching, and a nation desperate for solutions is counting on it.
The Citizen Editorial Board includes publisher Rob Forcey, managing editor Mike Dowd and executive editor Jeremy Boyer.