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McFeely: Stop thinking and praying, Congress, and do something to curb gun violence

FARGO -- A blizzard of thoughts and prayers have descended upon Orlando, thanks to our esteemed members of Congress. Who says these guys and gals aren't doing anything substantive in a time of national crisis? It takes some heavy lifting to (or d...

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Mike McFeely

FARGO -- A blizzard of thoughts and prayers have descended upon Orlando, thanks to our esteemed members of Congress. Who says these guys and gals aren’t doing anything substantive in a time of national crisis? It takes some heavy lifting to (or direct a staff member to) send a message of condolence on Twitter.

Such as Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, whose Twitter account Sunday said: “My thoughts and prayers are with all the victims, their families, and first responders in the #Orlando attack.”

Or Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida: “Tragic news out of Orlando. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”

Or Rep. Tom Price of Georgia: “Deeply saddened by the senseless terrorist attack in Orlando. Our thoughts & prayers are w/ the victims, their families, & first-responders.”

We’ll have to wait to see the results of all this thinking and praying. Hopefully it brings a measure of comfort to the families and friends of the 49 killed and 53 wounded in the nightclub, although it seems unlikely a cookie-cutter social media message from a stranger would do that.

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We know for certain, though, that the thoughts and prayers of U.S. representatives and senators will do nothing to stop the next mass shooting in this country, nor will it do anything to slow the scourge of gun violence to which we have become numb.

We know this to be fact because thoughts and prayers fell from the sky in a torrent after Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., and Washington, D.C., and Roseburg, Ore., and San Bernardino, Calif. Yet Newtown followed Aurora and D.C. followed Newtown and Roseburg followed D.C. and San Bernardino followed Roseburg and now Orlando followed San Bernardino. As much as we hope another town doesn’t follow Orlando, one will. Thoughts and prayers don’t stop bullets.

So maybe it’s time, honorable congressmen and women, to step from behind your phony curtain of Twitter sympathy and actually try something that might keep innocent people from being slaughtered by other Americans on American soil. As the legislative branch of the U.S. government, charged with making laws, perhaps you could pass one or two that might make it more difficult for bad people to legally acquire firearms like the AR-15 assault rifle used in the Orlando attack. AR-15s were also used in Aurora, Newtown, Roseburg and San Bernardino, by the way.

That might be a place to start. Maybe you could ban military-style weapons. It might not do any good, but it might. See, there’s always that chance. It might actually help. But we’ll never know unless we try.

Perhaps you could also try tougher background checks on all gun sales. All of them. After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, in which 20 of the 26 victims were 6- and 7-year-old children, the Senate voted on more stringent background checks. But the vote failed when that august body cowered in fear of the National Rifle Association.

Nothing, not even dead schoolchildren, sways the vote of a U.S. senator like the possibility of losing the sweet gig of being a U.S. senator.

Here’s an easy one: You could pass legislation that would ban people on terrorist watch lists from buying guns. Potentially dangerous people who can’t even get on a commercial airline in the U.S. couldn’t buy guns. Who could be against that? The U.S. Senate was. The same exact people who voted against background checks voted against stopping people suspected of consorting with terrorists from purchasing guns. That included North Dakota Sens. John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp, by the way. It was as illogical as it was cynical.

President Barack Obama has gone before the nation 14 times in less than eight years to speak in the aftermath of a mass shooting. Fourteen times. Yet our Congress has not done one thing to help prevent them. It is a national embarrassment.

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Meanwhile, the Senate recently approved $1.1 billion to fight the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease that can cause terrible birth defects. The funding passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support.

Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, had this to say: “This is a public health emergency and Congress should treat it like one.”

Mass shootings are a public health emergency, too. Funny, though, nobody sent thoughts and prayers to Zika victims. The Senate took substantive action instead. Congress should try the same with guns.

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