From the Opinion page of the 1.9.13 edition
Solid numbers are impossible to obtain, but credible estimates suggest there are about as many guns in the United States as there are people. Adding that to personal knowledge, I’d guess at least half the homes in McKinleyville have guns in them. I’d like to think they are all safely locked up, and that none of them are assault weapons, but it’s unlikely.
Another horrifying mass murder took place last month, plunging the nation into a frenzy of grief. An alienated, disturbed young man used guns belonging to his mother to kill her, 20 first-graders and six adults at an elementary school and himself. Most of the shooting was done with a military style assault rifle.
Here’s the deal – there is no simple, easy solution which will prevent this kind of tragedy, while also honoring the sensibilities of both those who believe every American should be able to own an unlimited arsenal of firearms and those who don’t want any guns in civilian hands. The only way forward is incrementally, starting with the kind of sensible gun control regulations supported by most Americans.
An assault rifle is designed to kill from a distance, and it is fearfully efficient at the task. There is no legitimate civilian use for such a gun; even the National Rifle Association (NRA,) which opposes all gun-control laws on principle, has yet to claim one. After a week of silence, an NRA spokesman announced a preposterous solution – every school should have an armed guard. It would be ruinously expensive, and in order to be effective, it would mean turning our schools into prisons. Another frequent suggestion is to arm the adults who are already in the schools. With the exception of a few military veterans and former police officers pursuing a second career in education, there aren’t many teachers or school administrators with the training to carry and use firearms and the safety implications are scary.
Opponents of gun control are fond of reciting “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns,” but that argument doesn’t impress me. It’s true there are hundreds of millions of guns already out there – partly because the NRA pours billions of dollars into anti-regulation efforts. While the majority of the NRA’s revenue comes from member dues, the the majority of those members favor some of the very regulations the organization vehemently opposes.
Critics say too much of the NRA’s money comes from American gun makers. They suspect it isn’t so much concern for the Second Amendment rights of citizens that motivates the organization as it is cold, hard cash. They point out that Australia, which has no domestic firearms industry, passed strict anti-laws after a single mass murder.
A government buyback program eliminated the vast majority of the guns in private ownership, and gun violence has fallen there. We know that won’t happen here, but it is vital that we take a stand, and make a start at taking back our communities from irresponsible gun owners and companies which profit from the mayhem. And members of the NRA who don’t agree with its public lobbying might want to withdraw their support.
There is a place for voluntary buyback programs to begin reducing the number of guns in homes, where they are more likely to be used in an accidental shooting or stolen during a burglary than for self-defense. It’s one way to make a small dent in the problem without infringing on any rights at all. Some investors are looking at their portfolios to see if they are invested in gun companies.
Others are asking the managers of their pension funds to sell stock in the gun industry, or mutual funds which are invested in it. If you don’t support instruments of death as a commodity, you might want to do the same.
Violent images, games and movies don’t help. Too many of our youth are steeped in visual carnage at an age when it is very difficult for them to differentiate between what is real and what is fiction. There is a place at the table for pressure to reduce those images, even if they turn a profit.
There’s that word again – profit. The real reason gun control laws rarely make it onto the books isn’t the advocacy of the few Americans who genuinely believe assault weapons with 500-bullet magazines are reasonable for target shooting. It’s because their very minority beliefs are magnified all out of proportion by those who make a profit selling those products.
It took 50 years to change our society from one which embraced and encouraged smoking to one which protects nonsmokers and actively discourages tobacco use. I expect it will take at least as long to make significant inroads in gun violence. But if we don’t get started, it will never happen.
(Elizabeth Alves notes that Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu is credited with the adage “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Comments and suggestions are welcome care of the Press or to firstname.lastname@example.org)