Juan Williams: Congress is blind to nation's gun plague

Guns being fired. People running wildly.

My most chilling memory of 2021 is the night of panic that broke out around me at Nationals Park in July as baseball fans ran in every direction with fear flying through the stadium at the sound of gunfire.

The last two years have seen a furious rise in gun death. It is startling because the FBI reported an overall four percent drop in other major crime categories in 2020.

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Rising crime isn’t the problem. The problem is gun violence.

But Congress refuses to limit access to guns.

Our elected representatives accept as a fact of life that more than 100 Americans die from gunfire every day on average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And the threat is getting closer to Congress due to the rise in political extremism on the right.

“Polling indicates that 30 percent of Republicans, and 40 percent of people who ‘most trust’ far-right news sources, believe that ‘true patriots’ may have to resort to violence to ‘save’ the country — a statement that gets far less support among Democrats and independents,” The New York Times recently reported.

Already, threats against members of Congress are on track to double this year, according to Capitol Police.

“When do we get to use the guns?” a man asked at a right-wing rally in Idaho last month. He complained of “corporate and medical fascism” and elections being stolen from Republicans. The audience applauded him.

Last week, a report in the medical journal “Injury Epidemiology” warned that ongoing increases in gun sales, gun violence and political extremism are putting “the USA at risk for disaster in the months ahead.”

Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California Davis, warned in the report that the nation’s political leadership has “no time to waste if we are to prevent the loss of thousands of lives and emerge with our democracy intact.”

Here is an important note: Americans want Congress to halt easy access to guns.

A September Pew Research Center survey showed 48 percent of Americans say gun violence is “a very big problem in the country today.” And more than half of Americans, 53 percent, want to tighten gun laws.

But that figure shows a drop-off from two years ago, in September of 2019, when Pew found 60 percent of Americans favoring stricter gun laws.

My guess is that people are frustrated at years of waiting, hoping for Congress to do something about gun violence.

With the collapse of the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) heavy political pressure, due to costly lawsuits and allegations of financial mismanagement, a window of opportunity is open for Congress to act.

But after years of NRA campaign money and lobbying, the Republicans in Congress remain reflexively opposed to limiting access to guns.

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority is currently following that script by considering a suit to do away with New York laws limiting the right to carry a gun in public.

The court has already loosened gun restrictions in the city I live in, Washington, D.C. The nation’s capital has seen a 12 percent increase in homicide this year, hitting a 16-year high.

Nationwide, there was a 26 percent jump in gun murder in 2020.

And this year the alarming rise continues. Preliminary studies show a nine percent jump over 2020’s record for people being murdered by gunfire, according to CNN. It's cold comfort that murder rates remain significantly lower than when they hit a dreadful peak in the early 1990s.

One consequence of all this gunfire is a jump in people buying more guns.

That includes a surge in first-time gun purchases by Blacks and Latinos. In addition, there is rise in so-called “ghost-guns,” that can be purchased online for assembly.

The fear of gun violence is very intense for politicians but also for me as a Black man in public life.

“Black Americans make up 68 percent of homicide victims in larger cities, many of them victims of gun violence,” Time magazine reported a year ago, citing Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that advocates for stricter gun laws.

In California in 2020, about half of the homicide victims were Latinos, who make up about 39 percent of the state’s population.

But almost a third of the victims were Black people, who are about 6.5 percent of the state’s population.

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The statistics on gun violence led a man working to stop gun violence among young people to tell The Washington Post in June that the current spree in gun murder is “the  forgotten pandemic” because it is taking place during the COVID-19 crisis.

Congress did not act to limit access to guns after 20 elementary school children were killed by a gunman in Newtown, Conn. in 2012.

Congress did not act on guns after 49 were killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016.

Congress did not act after 17 were killed at a high school in Parkland, Fla., in 2018.

Congress still won’t act.

Congress remains blind to seeing the obvious. Guns are the problem.

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.