Gun Inaction Dx: Chronic, Terminal

The past two weeks have been harrowing.

Temporarily relieved of the intimate knowledge of the depth of our depravity during the pandemic, we were issued the starkest of reminders.

No one in this country is safe. No matter your state, no matter your neighborhood. No matter if you fancy yourself a massage or a quick trip to the grocery to fetch a carton of milk. We are all subject to the whims of others — whims that often turn deadly.

The pandemic had served as a reprieve of sorts. Fewer excursions outside of the home allowed less space for bloodshed. Fewer concerts, fewer sporting events, fewer large gatherings in general meant fewer opportunities to lie in wait and pick off easy prey.

But our progress — whether real or illusory — ground to a halt this month, as we suffered two mass shootings in as many weeks. Eight were killed during a spate of shootings at Atlanta-area spas, and just six days later, 10 would be killed in and outside of a grocery store in Boulder, Colo.

And those are just the mass shootings that were highly publicized thanks to the number of fatalities. You likely heard less about the gunfire at a watering hole in Mississippi on Saturday that injured six. Or the shooting outside of a sports bar in Philadelphia the day before — a shooting that logged seven victims, four of whom were in critical condition. Or the one sandwiched between Atlanta and Boulder, in which one died and seven were wounded when a gunman opened fire inside a Dallas nightclub.

Inevitably, these assaults on our safety vary in presentation. They happen in towns big and small; their assailants as diverse as their victims. Their motives, too. The elimination of temptation. Suspected gang activity. An altercation among over-served patrons. Regularly, deep-seated hate or mental illness.

But there is one common thread woven between these episodic blasts of terror, and it is, invariably, the weapon of choice. The one selected to ensure maximum damage. The one designed to be as efficient as it is deadly. The one enshrined in our Second Amendment.

The response, therefore, is also invariably the same. Some thoughts and prayers. Some talk of mental health, which never seems to materialize into actionable policy. A rerun of calls for gun control by Democrats and the Republicans who tell them it’s “too soon” to politicize a tragedy.

Last week was no exception.

“While some elected officials have already started using this shooting to advance a political agenda, I refuse to do so,” freshman Rep. Lauren Boebert said, adding “I will not blame society at large for the sick actions of one man.”

Said Sen. Ted Cruz, “Every time there’s a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders.”

“Ridiculous theater.”

“Political agenda.”

We’ve read the words of this script before.

And they were as empty and ineffectual the first time as they are on their hundredth refrain.

Stop accusing lawmakers of “politicizing” a tragedy.

No one cares about the election three years from now, or even the midterms next year. No one who is advancing legislation is doing so because George Soros conducted a super secret socialist meeting during which all Democrats were instructed to carpe diem and push their “agenda.” They are pushing for reform because they have identified both a problem and a potential solution.

And why do we call it an “agenda” anyway? A word steeped in negative innuendo. If one’s “agenda” is to make our country a safer place for all, whether I agree with their specific call to action or not, I can acknowledge the honor and nobility in the effort.

Because, ultimately, I don’t know what the solution is. Maybe it’s gun control. Maybe it’s improved mental health services. Maybe it’s a culture change. Maybe it’s all of the above. I don’t pretend to have the answers. But what I do know is this: Anyone who tries to prevent our representatives from discussing potential solutions to a pervasive and uniquely American problem, simply because the implications threaten their political party? They are the ones politicizing a tragedy. They are the ones placing party over country. Because we need to find a solution. We suffer more gun violence in this country than any other developed nation. And I think we can all agree that that is less than ideal.

So why are we dissuading those in power from actively addressing the problem?

You can say that it’s “too soon” to discuss solutions, but I would challenge you to rethink that contention. Because not only do I think that it’s not too soon to find a solution to a decades-old problem, I think scores of victims and their loved ones would probably agree that it’s a quarter past too late.

So let us not emulate the kind of demonization that has taken hold in Washington.

Let us not make the plight of victims of gun violence political.

Because bolstering our safety by preventing the senseless murder of innocents should be a nonpartisan issue. And while we may have different ideas on how to get there, it’s high time we start discussing them in a serious way.

Because those universal background checks that were reduced to “ridiculous theater” and “political agendas”?

They enjoy widespread approval among Americans.

According to Quinnipiac polling, 93 percent of Americans support universal background checks (to include 89 percent of Republicans and 87 percent of gun owners). When asked specifically about the various iterations of the bill passed in the House, 86 percent of Americans voice support (80 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of gun owners). And yet Republicans in Congress, specifically Mitch McConnell, have blocked consideration of these bills for years.

So you have to ask yourself, who does Mitch McConnell serve? Perhaps the NRA, who has made over $1.2 million dollars in contributions toward his campaigns? It’s certainly not the American people. Not when he continuously refused to so much as debate a bill supported by the vast majority of Americans. Supported by the vast majority of his own party.

In spite of the stonewalling, it remains important to effect solutions to an issue that is endemic to our country. Background checks would be a start but certainly not a panacea. So how do we solve the problem?

While gun control alone will never completely eradicate violence, it is a necessary and important first step. On the other hand, those who seek to ban all manner of firearms act in direct contravention of our country’s Constitution. It is an exercise in futility and contributes little to the debate.

So here is where I, personally, stand:

1. Raise the minimum age of purchase to 21. The minimum age is already 21 for handguns, and I see no reason why the restriction shouldn’t be extended to long guns, too. Because, ultimately, if we cannot trust an individual to consume alcohol responsibly, I struggle to understand why we would trust them with a firearm.

2. Ban bump stocks and any other accessory that helps to simulate automatic fire.

3. Strengthen background checks and build a national database with cooperation from all government entities, requiring and incentivizing participation.

4. Close the existing loopholes. Private sellers should have to submit their customers to background checks just like anyone else, or face personal liability for the actions of their buyer. And that liability should also extend to gun owners whose weapons are used in the commission of a crime.

We must mandate not only the responsible sale of these weapons but responsible ownership, too.

5. Implement additional eligibility requirements for people who wish to own high-capacity magazines that house more than x number of rounds (the number, to me, is flexible based on the recommendations of more well-versed individuals).

As far the procedural safeguards are concerned, I am open to suggestion. Licensing? Registration? Mental fitness? Insurance and renewals? I am openminded on the particulars but steadfast in my belief that the greatest threat to our personhood is not necessarily the weapon itself but the number of rounds that can be fired in quick succession.

In Newtown, nine children were able to escape from the targeted classroom while the gunman paused to change out a thirty-round magazine. In Tucson, the shooter was overcome and restrained by bystanders while reloading his firearm. In Las Vegas, hundreds were able to flee the scene of the attack during each break in firing. Thus, it seems fair to suggest that by reducing the number of rounds that can be fired without reloading, we would be increasing the odds that lives will be spared in mass shootings. We would be granting victims precious seconds to intervene or flee and increasing the chances that the shooter might make a misstep in such a high-pressure situation.

And I do not believe that we would be subjecting law-abiding citizens to any undue harm by doing so. After all, per the NRA’s own “Armed Citizen” studies of 1997-2001 and 2011-2013, the average number of shots fired in self-defense situations was a mere 2.2 and 2.1, respectively.

6. Explore the concept of GVROs. I believe that these could be effective tools in ensuring that our citizens retain the right to due process while still affording those closest to them the opportunity to act on their concerns.

Now, this is the point where I am expected to suggest an “assault weapons” ban, but I am not going to. While I would be fine with regulating them in a manner consistent with high-capacity magazines, I also think that regulating them might prove to be too cumbersome. How do you define that class of weapon? How do you avoid small manipulations that produce the same intended effect? Ultimately, while I am not opposed to making it more difficult to obtain these weapons, I remain unsure of how practicable it would be. Magazine capacity is far more clear cut to me and has substantial power, in my view, to alter the course of a given situation, more so than the type of gun utilized (see, for example, the harm inflicted by pistols in the Virginia Tech shooting).

Now, to those who say that this regulation or that regulation would have failed to stop this mass shooting or prevent another, I concede that, in many situations, that will be true. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. But we must remain consistent. Because many of the individuals who are inclined to dismiss these suggestions as ineffectual are the same individuals who have no problem pinning the blame on soft targets and prescribing armed guards as the solution. But a 15-year veteran of the sheriff’s office failed to prevent Columbine, despite being on campus at the time of the shooting (and actually firing on the perpetrator). Armed security failed to prevent Pulse. Armed security also failed to prevent Marjory Stoneman Douglas. But that does not mean that we shouldn’t still consider it a valid measure. Because, ultimately, this is a complex situation with no easy answer, and I think that we all know that our solutions are more likely to minimize the harm than eradicate it entirely.

But if there is an answer, it is going to be multifaceted, and it is going to involve adjustments to our current laws, in addition to changes elsewhere in society. We have seen firsthand how amendments to laws can shape the future of a nation (Australia, the U.K., Japan, etc.), and while many have argued that what worked for them may not work for us due to cultural differences, isn’t it at least worth a shot? Aren’t our peers worth as much?

So be proactive in lobbying your representatives for change.

Vote for politicians who are going to serve your interests, not the interests of those organizations that help to keep them in power.

Vote for individuals who are going to advance legislation whether or not it is politically expedient.

And vote for those who are going to put an end to our country’s suffering, not those who are happy to use it as a bargaining chip in an attempt to even political scores.

These politicians are counting on you to place partisanship over morality so that they can continue to reap the benefits of your loyalty, and it is time that we show our lawmakers that our neighbors’ lives are not to be used as a sacrificial lamb under the guise of freedom or in the name of political gain.

We can do better, America. But we have to demand better first.

And it starts by holding our politicians accountable.

To get involved in the fight against gun violence, visit Everytown for Gun Safety to donate or learn more.

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