Activism

Republicans Prioritize Airline Employees' Poor Judgment With Pets Over Young People Dying From Gun Violence

Animal welfare is important—and so is the safety of school kids.

Feb. 19, 2018: Demonstration organized by Teens For Gun Reform, created by students in the Washington DC area, in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Photo Credit: Lorie Shaull / Flickr

On a day when American students and their supporters marched to demand stricter gun laws and to memorialize 17 people brutally killed at a Florida high school, the news broke that Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana intended to file an animal protection bill. The move came about 48 hours after the death of 10-month old puppy on a Houston to New York flight after United Airlines employees forced the owners to put the animal in an overhead bin.

His compassion for dogs is commendable. Yet Kennedy proposes to take zero action on the gun violence that kills schoolkids.

Animal welfare is an important issue. Few owners want to consign their pet to an airplane cargo hold if they can avoid it. Passengers take small pets on planes so they can be stowed safely under a seat. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the animal welfare advocacy group, said a certain measure of responsibility for this sad episode rests with the people transporting the pet. Most others faulted the crew for exercising poor judgment. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office (Houston is the county seat) has opened an investigation into the puppy's death.

Not content to let United, Harris County or the court of public opinion handle the issue, Kennedy stepped in with the Welfare Of Our Furry Friends Act, or WOOFF:

Kennedy’s motivation for swift action on the incident is unclear. (Louisiana Voice blogger Tom Aswell offered this insight about Kennedy in January, “Kennedy, in constant search of a TV camera and microphone, has now gone beyond absurdity in opposing more stringent background checks.”) All 50 states have felony animal cruelty statutes. There are prohibitions in the Texas penal code pertaining to non-livestock animals, including “transporting or confining an animal in a cruel manner.”

In one year, Republicans have stripped health care from millions and reduced taxes on 1 percenters and corporations who should pay millions more. They have countenanced more nonsense and ineptitude from the 45th president than the previous 44 put together, while the minions toiling for said chief executive continue to rip the guts out of the federal government. Republican lawmakers have failed to come up with even a token attempt to declare independence from NRA dollars. 

Last October after the Las Vegas concert shootings, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, Kennedy told Politico, “I don’t think we ought to punish 80, 90 million gun owners who have a right to own a weapon under the Constitution because of the act of one idiot,” “Just like I don’t think we ought to condemn all Muslims because of the act of one jihadist.” His career donations from the NRA total $215,788.

While some of Kennedy's constituents offered a few attaboys on Facebook over his decision to offer the pet protection legislation, most of the posters were appalled.

“There are more important issues for you to spend time on. May I suggest a few: health care, state budget, common sense gun control, education,” noted one Bossier City, Louisiana, woman. A New Orleans woman said, “As a constituent, I demand an immediate explanation for the more than 33,000 gun deaths in America each year. Or would you care more if it were dogs dying instead of people?”

Twitter lit up, too:

Kennedy sent an outraged letter to United Airlines President J. Scott Kirby:

"According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 18 of the 24 animals who died in major U.S. airlines’ care last year were in the care of United. Another 13 animals in United’s care suffered injuries last year. For comparison, Delta and American each reported two animal deaths. This pattern of animal deaths and injuries is simply inexcusable. For many people, pets are members of the family. They should not be treated like insignificant cargo. Frankly, they shouldn’t be placed in the cargo hold, much less an overhead bin."

But he sent no such letter to NRA President Wayne LaPierre.

He could have said this: According to the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence, on average, 17,102 teenagers and children are shot every year; 2,737 die from their wounds. According to the Washington Post, 250 people have died in school shootings since 2000. By contrast, considerably fewer people in Canada and the United Kingdom die as a result of gun violence. This pattern of school shootings and injuries is simply unacceptable. Children are the future of the nation. They come to school to learn, not to be slaughtered. In fact, perhaps they should protest and walk out of school for an entire day if their elders cannot protect them.

Kennedy and his Republican confreres should focus on expediting legislation to help prevent more attacks against young people. Local officials and law enforcement can handle violence against domestic animals.

Gabrielle Gurley is The American Prospect’s deputy editor.