The Inexplicable Inaction of Legislators on Gun Violence

As mass shootings continue to happen, elected officials appear reticent to take effective action.

I’d like to say I’m sad. But I’m not. I’d like to say I’m numb to the effects of the senseless loss of life from gun violence. But I’m not.

I am angry, and profoundly disturbed by the ongoing failure of legislatures across the country to take any meaningful action to curb this violence. The legislatures may not know this, so I’ll give them a hint: death by gun violence is not a partisan issue. Death does not recognize political affiliation. Failure to address this issue is abject poltroonery.

The generally accepted definition of a mass shooting is any shooting in which four or more people are injured or killed, excluding the shooter. According to the Gun Violence Archive, 2022 has delivered more than 240 mass shootings, at the time of this writing. Those shootings have resulted in 278 deaths and 1,084 injured. There have been 33 mass shootings since the carnage at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The archive reports 700 mass shootings in 2021, and 611 in 2020.

I must ask, why are legislatures so consistently intransigent in their unwillingness to take meaningful action? It’s tempting to suspect that legislators simply don’t feel it’s a big deal. After all, they have the benefit of security that’s better than that of the average citizen. But Steve Scalise and other members of Congress would seem to know otherwise. Scalise, in particular, should understand the painful reality of gun violence. Instead of using the 2017 shooting at a congressional baseball practice as a springboard to a safer America, the incident was immediately recast as a left-wing activist seeking suicide by police. It seems that if you can attribute a personal assassination attempt to a left-wing whacko, you can avoid taking any action to stop recurrences – or protect the remainder of the citizens of the U.S. After all, as they say, you can’t stop crazy.

Unfortunately, the issue of gun violence – mass shootings in particular – has devolved into an issue of mental illness. Red-flag laws are specifically designed to separate, involuntarily, if necessary, those who might perpetrate violence from their weapons. Currently, less than one-third of states have such a law. One state, Oklahoma, actually has an “anti-red-flag” law that prohibits any political subdivision of the state from enacting a red-flag law. It seems that legislatures are only interested in preventing access to weapons by high-risk individuals if it doesn’t interfere with their access to weapons.

I have considered that there’s simply not enough death from gun violence. That’s probably not the case either. Two Boeing 737 MAX commercial airliners crashed in 2018 and 2019. A total of 346 people were killed in the two crashes combined. Yet those 346 deaths were enough to ground all 737 MAX aircraft and prohibit them from flying in U.S. airspace. In contrast, as noted, the 240 mass shootings in the U.S. have caused 278 deaths and 1,084 injuries – over five times the 737 MAX casualties. Yet, no one in any legislature has proposed a moratorium on munition sales.

The recent Tulsa, Oklahoma (yes, the same state with an “anti-red-flag” law) shooting shows that vengeful people will acquire weapons, and, on short time frames, use them against innocent bystanders. Would a red-flag law have prevented the Tulsa killings? We will never know. Boeing has admitted criminal conduct. No munitions manufacturer has ever admitted any degree of culpability for mass shootings. Bottom line is that it’s not the number of victims that’s preventing legislative action.

Healthcare providers are more cautious now. They understand that random acts of violence may intrude upon their previously sacrosanct domains of healing. They now have the same fears as parents of school-aged children. Maybe they are also budgeting for bulletproof backpacks and briefcases.

I used to feel safe in the hospital. But now I look at everyone and consider violent potential. My instincts, honed from my time as an armed agent of a state agency, kick in. I assess everyone I pass. I’m always aware of exits. I’m constantly prepared to react and address threats to the safety of my patients, colleagues, and myself.

In the end, I have no idea why legislators can’t make this better. They note that legislation won’t cure the problem. But by that measure, we wouldn’t have speed limits, drunk-driving laws, or stop signs. The goal shouldn’t be complete safety, but lowering the risk of harm. All I can think of is that they just want to disagree for purely partisan purposes.

I’m reminded of a quote by the late Golda Meir: “peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” Hopefully, someday soon, legislators will care more about serving constituents than they care about re-election.


John K. Hall, MD, JD, MBA, FCLM, FRCPC

John K. Hall, MD, JD, MBA, FCLM, FRCPC is a licensed physician in several jurisdictions and is admitted to the California bar. He is also the founder of The Aegis Firm, a healthcare consulting firm providing consultative and litigation support on a wide variety of criminal and civil matters related to healthcare. He lectures frequently on black-letter health law, mediation, medical staff relations, and medical ethics, as well as patient and physician rights. Dr. Hall hopes to help explain complex problems at the intersection of medicine and law and prepare providers to manage those problems.

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