War Stories

We Need Soldiers and Spies in the Debate Over Mass Shootings

The people who are involved with violence for a living may know how to stop it.

A Texas State Trooper vehicle and some officers stand outside in a parking lot with a Walmart sign visible behind them.
Texas state troopers keep watch Sunday outside the Walmart in El Paso, Texas, where a deadly shooting occurred this weekend. Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Now is the time for all good soldiers and spies to come to the aid of their country.

In the summer of 2016, a group of 22 retired officers, most of them generals and admirals—including David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal—called for tighter gun control laws, including mandatory background checks and the banning of automatic weapons.

On Sunday morning, in the wake of the weekend’s massacres, six former senior directors for counterterrorism from the National Security Council staffs of Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump urged the government to take domestic terrorism as seriously as it has foreign terrorism—to devote as much priority, and as many resources, toward preventing another El Paso or Dayton as it has toward preventing another 9/11.


Both sets of petitioners, especially the military officers, are the sorts of people who tend to avoid partisan causes; but this is not a partisan cause. Or, to the extent it is, it’s been made one by Republicans who contort themselves to blame the shootings on mental illness, evil, or video games—ignoring the fact that there’s plenty of all three in many other countries where mass shootings are all but nonexistent.


The only things that the United State has, but those other countries lack, are the easy availability of high-power firearms and the well-funded lobbyists of the National Rifle Association.

It’s time to take the NRA down a dozen notches (they’ve already been taken down a few but apparently not enough), and a good way to do that might be to muster the expertise of military commanders who know a lot more about these guns—what an AR-15 can do and why it’s useful for nothing but combat or mass murder—and of intelligence analysts who know a lot more about what makes people fire these guns in terrorist acts.


Some of these experts, especially the officers, might be leery of volunteering more than they’ve already said. If that’s the case, House committees should call them—a whole row of them, for days on end, if necessary—to testify on the subject. Let’s see if any Republican dares to recite his theory on gun violence and video games before a lineup of witnesses who know firsthand the topic of shootings. Let’s see how long he keeps unfurling the theory after the generals and counterterrorism experts beat it down. And let’s see how long it takes for the GOP to stop evading the clear and present danger—and do something.

FBI Director Christopher Wray testified in July that, over the previous nine months, the bureau had arrested almost as many domestic terrorists as international terrorists and that “a majority of the domestic terrorism cases we’ve investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence.”

What more needs to happen before the Republicans in Congress snap to their senses? Evasion at this point is tantamount to criminal complicity.