Mr. President, Senate Majority Leader McConnell, and Speaker of the House Ryan,
I was thinking about you the other week. It was on the occasion of the Santa Fe High School shooting. You know, the one where 10 people were killed and 13 wounded. Or, perhaps, you don’t recall it. After all, with almost 100 firearm fatalities per day in America, I’m sure that they all start to blend together.
Events like this must be an enormous distraction from the important work you do. I’m sure you want to talk about legislation like H.R. 4009, authorizing a parking facility to be built at the Smithsonian National Zoo, or the 70+ times you have tried unsuccessfully to kill the Affordable Care Act, or the decision to invoke tariffs to ensure that we have adequate supplies of steel and aluminum in the event of war with Canada. Instead, you were called upon to comment on yet another firearm mass killing—it must be so frustrating.
Fortunately, Title 4, Chapter 1, of the United States Code may provide relief! Let me explain.
I’ve observed that whenever there is a firearm related mass murder, you immediately provide a pro forma response through interviews and social media. They are always variations on the same theme.
From President Trump after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, “My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.”
From Senator McConnell after the slaying of 58 people in Las Vegas, Nevada, “Keeping #LasVegas in our thoughts this morning after the horrific news.”
From Speaker Ryan after 49 people were killed in Orlando, Florida, “We pray for those brutally attacked in Orlando. While we must learn more about the attacker, the victims & families will not be forgotten.”
But we all know that you have no intention of actually doing anything that would address the tragic deaths of so many of our citizens. So, it’s a waste of your valuable time to keep having to pretend that you care. That’s where Title 4 comes in. This statute defines what constitutes the flag of the United States. What I propose is that you amend this statute to make an addition to the stars and stripes of the current flag. More specifically, I suggest that you change the official flag to include placement of the words “thoughts and prayers” as seen in the example above.
Think about it. Once this change is made you no longer need to go through the motions of acting like you give a damn. The words “thoughts and prayers” on the flag will be a constant reminder to the citizenry of this fine country that our leaders feel sad when mothers, fathers, sons and daughters are killed because of the wide availability of firearms. Once this amendment is passed, when you get a question about the most recent shooting at a school or church or concert or nightclub or movie theater you can respond by just touching the flag on your lapel pin with an empathetic look for your constituency.
Those pesky little bullets. They are not only an irritant, but also keep you from focusing on ways to balance the budget and make our government more efficient. Under your leadership, our National Debt has increased to $21 trillion for the first time in history, with an additional $1.3 trillion expected as part of last year’s Tax Reform. Because you are the party of fiscal conservatism, I’m certain you are searching for some savings in the federal budget.
Title 4 may also provide an opportunity here. In addition to codifying the appearance of our flag, Title 4 also prescribes its methods of display. Most notably, it provides, “The flag, when flown at half-staff, should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position.”
According to a GSA report from 2014, the federal government owns more than 300,000 federal buildings and leases an additional 500,000 buildings and other structures. Let’s assume that each has at least one flag pole.
I’ve spent a bit of time researching the height of flagpoles used at government buildings. In general, they range from 25 to 50 feet. Some have electric winches to raise flags to the top of the staff, but most rely on manual power. Again, for sake of argument, let’s assume that it takes on average of five minutes to raise, halt briefly, and lower a flag to half-staff. Multiply that by 800,000 flagpoles and you get almost 67,000 hours per day!
By now you’re asking why I am highlighting this calculation? Well, here’s my thinking. Whenever there is a mass shooting in this country (defined as 4 or more deaths), flags are generally lowered to half-staff. Last year there were 346 mass shootings; the year before, 384. Although it is true that not every mass shooting is recognized in this fashion, given their increasing occurrence, we are rapidly reaching the point where our flags are almost continuously at half-staff.
Thus, my second recommendation is that we amend Title 4 to provide that the flag may only be flown at half-staff. By my calculations, this would result in an annual savings of more than 24,000,000 hours per year. Note that this figure is likely conservative as it does not reflect the city and state buildings that also fly the American flag. You want better government efficiency, this is an easy place to start. Think about all the things you could do with an additional 24,000,000 hours!
It might even give you time to watch this: