If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a thousand times from various commentators: People who raise the issue of gun control after a mass shooting are politicizing the shooting, and what could be more tawdry than that?
Close upon the heels of this perspective is what is taken to be a corollary: If the issue of gun control is raised after a mass shooting, this impugns the millions of gun owners who handle their firearms with utmost responsibility and safety.
We see things rather differently. If a mass shooting spurs a discussion of gun control, this is because people want a solution to mass shootings. Assuming that gun control is not a solution to mass shootings, this does not change the motive behind the pro-gun control crowd: to stop mass shootings. That is not “politics.” That is simple humanity.
Not to mention, if the discussion of gun control after a mass shooting is, in fact, a politicization, then the objection to this discussion is equally a politicization. It is no less political to object to proposals for stricter gun control than it is to object to stricter laws against driving under the influence of marijuana.
To us, therefore, the issue isn’t politics. The issue is whether gun laws in this country are appropriate. Right out of the gate, we must put to rest the idea that to suggest that gun control be intensified is an attack on responsible gun owners. It is not, any more than laws about driving under the influence of alcohol or marijuana constitute an attack on people who do not drink or smoke weed while they drive. The search for more safety in this country has nothing to do with the people who already handle guns responsibly or drive safely.
Still more: Laws that require strict background checks at gun shows to weed out criminals or those mentally unfit to use guns do not curb anyone’s rights any more than laws that disqualify drivers with a proven record of risky driving behavior.
What, then, of gun control per se? For starters, uses of guns that disobey the clear intent of current laws should be prohibited. “Bump stock” devices that transform guns into the equivalent of banned automatic firearms should be banned. This is a no brainer. There is bipartisan support for this. It should be a law, not merely an administrative decision. The latter can be reversed by a subsequent administration.
Second, even some of the firearms that are permitted shouldn’t be. Say that the Las Vegas shooter had not used a “bump stock.” He still would have killed many more people than a simpler weapon, designed for self-defense or for hunting, would have killed. Weapons whose primary use is in the military do not need to be permitted to civilians. Do we really want the following kind of report about one Dr. Benjamin Snook, a surgeon and a colonel in the US Air Force, after the Las Vegas shooting:
“As he raced to triage victims of the Las Vegas shooting on the night of Oct. 1, Brandon Snook encountered many familiar wounds. He had seen them in the bodies of US soldiers evacuated from battle in Fallujah, Iraq” (Wall Street Journal, Oct. 10).
Meanwhile, in the wake of mass shootings, what is offered as an alternative to stricter gun control? As far as we can tell, the alternative solutions are prayer and improved mental health treatment. Far be it from us to dismiss the importance and efficacy of prayer, but our tradition says to pray and to act, not to pray instead of acting. As for mental health, it is indeed scandalous how little attention and how few resources are allotted to mental health in this country (and especially in Colorado), but again, the one has little to do with the other:
• Not all mass shooters are mentally ill, and virtually no mentally ill people are murderers. Mental illness often becomes a comfortable excuse to avoid facing a brutal human deterioration. It is called evil. It is a moral failing, not a mental failing.
• Mental health is broad issue that does not address the narrow, specific, proximate cause of mass shootings: ready access to guns, some of which do not belong in civilian hands, and all of which are obtainable minus the common sense safeguards of loophole-less background checks. To be inconvenienced at a gun show by a longer background check is no more a denial of one’s rights than to be inconvenienced by a long line at the motor vehicle bureau.
Does increased gun ownership save lives? The argument is made that if enough individuals carry guns, mass shootings and common crimes can be stopped or at least minimized. It is an attractive argument for which we have not seen any rigorous, supportive research. The mass shooting in Las Vegas, for example, was stopped by police, not by anyone in the concert crowd of some 20,000 people, some of whom no doubt carried guns. It is one thing to argue that if a person is carrying a gun when a crime, such as a mass shooting, breaks out, the gun toter can take out the killer. It is quite something else to move from the theoretical to the actual — to identify incidents where this actually happens. And even if it happens, are the benefits greater than the dangers of our lax gun laws? It is an unavoidable question.
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