Still No Response to My Gun-control Questions

This OpEd appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune July 8, 2017

June 12 marked the one-year anniversary of the Pulse Night Club massacre. The 49 lives taken that night in Orlando composed the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, and the greatest number of LGBTQ casualties in a single hate-inspired act, eclipsing the Upstairs Lounge Fire in New Orleans, which claimed 32 lives on June 24, 1973.

On March 14, I wrote the following letter to my elected officials in Washington: Rep. Chris Stewart and Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee:

"I am continually haunted by the degree of gun violence in our country, and I want to ask you two very specific questions regarding the June 12th, 2016 shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

1) Do you believe Omar Mateen should have had a gun? 2) Why, if someone is considered dangerous enough to be on the no-fly list (which Omar Mateen was), should they be allowed to purchase firearms? As your constituent, I would appreciate a succinct, straightforward answer to these questions."

It has been over three months, and not one of my congressmen has responded to me. Granted, I would not expect my representatives to see eye to eye with me on gun control, but I would expect them to at least respond to a letter from a constituent.

Upon Googling "Worst U.S. Mass Shootings," Sandy Hook Elementary School and Virginia Tech come up, along with a disturbingly long list of other such gun-perpetrated atrocities. One need only look in our own backyard to find a mass shooting 10 years ago at Trolley Square. But nothing seems to change (the mostly Republican) elected officials' stance on common-sense gun control laws, not Columbine, not Trolley Square, not Virginia Tech, not Charleston, not San Bernardino, not Pulse — not even someone opening fire on Republican congressmen at a congressional baseball practice was enough to prompt members of that party to take action.

In fact, the response was once again that we should have more, not fewer, guns. The majority of Republicans are so beholden to the NRA that they won't even allow debate around the issue during the legislative session, much less respond to their constituents. And, unfortunately, our Utah representatives number among this group.

I don't harbor any delusions that members of Congress read or personally reply to constituent letters. I'm sure they have staffers who take care of that for them. But that is all the more reason that three months without any response seems unreasonable. I'm pretty sure that my Uncle Bob (former Sen. Robert F. Bennett) would have responded to my letter and that we could have engaged in a civil discourse around the issue. But civil discourse seems to be severely lacking in our nation's capital these days.

During this anniversary month of the massacres at Pulse Nightclub and Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., Rep. David N. Cicilline, D-R.I., and Sen. Robert Casey, D-Penn., introduced the Disarm Hate Act to prevent individuals convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes from purchasing guns. I'm wondering if I should bother to write my elected officials asking them to sign on to this bill, or if I might have a greater impact by just choosing to call them out in this op-ed instead.

John Bennett, of Salt Lake City, is a longtime member of Utah's LGBTQ community and a concerned citizen.