Mass shootings, at churches, schools, malls, parks, offices, nightclubs; just about any place where people gather, have been going on for longer than I can remember. That is, I can’t remember when they started. I remember the John Kennedy assassination, and those of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. I remember Kent State, but that was not quite the same thing. I remember Columbine and Jonesboro, but I can’t remember if they were the first examples of “school” shootings. What I am saying is that I really can’t recall when mass shootings started to become so common that we didn’t even pay much attention to them after the initial shock and the expressions of “thoughts and prayers” on the part of the political figures who bother to comment. That’s not to suggest that there hasn’t been a good deal of talk about them. Something has to provide content for the 24- hour news channels, and mass death and/or injury is always good for attracting “eyeballs.”
To be honest, I’m sick and tired of the whole thing. I feel a lot like the way Uncle Sam is portrayed in this cartoon by Dave Granlund.
I want a solution, and I’d like it P.D.Q. (that’s an abbreviation for “pretty damn[ed] quick, for any who’ve never heard it before; although it’s been around since at least 1875). I’m very tired of watching the body count rise while “experts” argue about whether, or not, “everyone really needs an AR-15 with a 30-round magazine for personal defense, or hunting.” Personally, I doubt that the AR-15 is a really good choice for personal protection (except, perhaps, in a siege situation) and I have doubts about how good a hunting rifle it is, although, not being a hunter, I really can’t comment on this use.
Now, it is, naturally, unacceptable to even question whether, or not, we, as a society, should allow private citizens to own weapons which were designed and developed for the purposes of the military in war, that is to kill people, not for hunting or target shooting without even the rather obvious precaution of a “background” check in many cases. Yes, licensed gun dealers ARE required to conduct so-called “background” checks for the sale of weapons, but it appears that even those, minimal, checks are often not completed within the minimal time period required (three business days), so the purchase is automatically authorized, since it’s not forbidden. And, of course, private and “gun show” sales don’t require even these checks in most places. All that’s needed is just the seller’s asking price. That’s to say nothing of stolen, or “borrowed,” weapons.
This is, of course, because the Constitution says that everyone has a right to “...keep and bear arms….” This is, of course, so obviously incorrect that it makes me laugh. I think I’m correct when I suggest that the so-called “absolute right” to arms does NOT include fully automatic weapons (like machine guns), flamethrowers, grenades, tanks, artillery pieces, bazookas, atomic bombs, and many other types of military equipment. In fact, there are some limits on most of our “rights.” The Freedom of Speech does not allow one to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theatre (to use the classic example), at least unless there is one. One cannot advocate assassination of government officials, or war against the government, itself. Freedom of Religion (I’m pretty sure) doesn’t protect human sacrifice as a part of religious ritual. Freedom of the Press does allow criticism of the government, but not the encouragement of violence against it. And so on…. Obviously, if this is the case, the notion of an “absolute right” is simply not true! If it were, there could be no limitations on the sorts of weapons which one would be free to buy, and these other actions would be protected and legal.
Some have suggested that the best solution to at least part of theproblem of mass shootings is to remove things like assault rifles from the open market. Some have suggested they should be removed from civilian ownership completely, even if it means confiscation. I suppose that either of those might be a step, but we have seen far too many times how much damage can be done by something other than “long” guns (basically rifles, assault or not and shotguns). Many pistols have fairly high capacity magazines and it doesn’t seem to be hard to obtain ammunition and extra “clips.” So, while taking assault rifles off of the civilian market might provide some relief, it certainly is NOT a cure-all.
This, I think, becomes obvious when one considers that: 1.) there are believed to have been at least 89 guns per 100 people in the US as of 2013; 2.) that only about 25% of people in the U.S. actually own guns (meaning that many owners have more than one); and, 3.) about 3% of gun owners own about 50% of ALL guns, meaning that some owners have a large number of guns. That, I assume, does not include firearms owned illegally, but the figures I have seen are not completely clear. These statistics suggest that (with a population of about 325 million people) there is something in the neighborhood of 290 million firearms in the US today. That’s a LOT! We, as a country, are awash with guns. And, we have a fairly poor idea of who owns what sort of weaponry. (NOTE: this does NOT appear to be the case in many other countries where gun ownership is less common and death by gun is far less common.)
Any attempt to suggest that any sort of limitation on the number of firearms one could own, or the type(s), is immediately met with objections from the “Gun Lobby,” usually represented by the National Rifle Association, or, rather, its leadership. Polls suggest that the majority of the NRA’s membership, all approximately 5 million of them (according to the NRA web site, accessed on May 15, 2019) are willing to accept the idea of some sort of “reasonable” gun restrictions, but their leadership are completely opposed to consideration of such. I don’t understand how the leadership of such a small organization (apparently about 1.5% of the population using the NRA’s numbers) appears to have the power to influence the entire national legislative system and that of all 50 states by putting out “ratings” on political figures willingness to refuse to even consider what many of their own members apparently believe to be rational, logical and reasonable restrictions?
I have to confess that I think it highly unlikely that arming school teachers (another idea which is seemingly popular with some) is going to solve the problem for schools, any more than having armed people in every house of worship, shopping center and office building would. I think it might well complicate it. After all, how could “first responders” know who the “bad” guys were if EVERYBODY was running around waving a gun? The statistics show that “trained police” only hit their target about 30% of the time in actual situations. Are school teachers going to be as well trained as police?
I really find it hard to believe that MORE guns are going to provide a plausible solution, even just for “school” shootings. I also think it unlikely that there are very many Colleges of Education (or State School Boards) who are likely to require even a single class in “Weapons Usage 101” as a requirement for a teaching license. Given the high demands on teachers, their low pay, and their lack of public respect compared to a couple of generations ago, we are having enough trouble getting the teachers we need without adding the requirement that they become the “first line of defense” for their students and colleagues. I think it even less likely that Schools of Divinity are going to encourage their students to obtain weapons training and get “concealed carry” permits as a condition of ordination. I can’t believe that turning schools, houses of worship, etc., into “hardened” (that is, armed) fortresses is likely to be effective, safe, or desirable.
These, of course, are not the only “solutions” being offered for the problem of mass shootings. Some others suggest that the “real” problem is that we, as a society, have not taken mental health issues seriously enough and that investing in more and better mental health facilities would go a long way towards resolving the issue of gun violence. Just recently, after the STEM “school shooting” in Colorado, there was supposed to be a vigil in honor of those killed and wounded. When the vigil was, effectively, taken over by politicians trying to score political points and the students were prevented from speaking about their friends, some of them left the vigil altogether. Some people, perhaps including some students, stood outside the vigil and chanted, “Mental Health. Mental Health,” as if the problem of firearms deaths could be solved through greater efforts in the mental health arena.
Now, I’m not going to suggest that there isn’t a great deal more we could do in the area of mental health in this country, but I seriously doubt that even the greatest efforts are going to eliminate, or even seriously reduce, gun violence, because mental illness is not a “once and forever” sort of thing. Someone could easily pass a mental health examination and be certified as suitable to own a weapon today, and have their circumstances change, even to the point of considering a mass shooting as acceptable at some future date. Dealing with mental health issues more effectively than we currently do MIGHT be of some assistance in dealing with weapons problems, but I think it’s highly unlikely that it would provide a real solution. It appears to me that some sort of restriction and/or registration of gun ownership is probably the only plausible way to deal with the issue of gun violence.
I suppose that one COULD require that gun owners be responsible for the safe storage of their weapons to the point that they are considered legally responsible for any criminal actions undertaken using their weaponry. However, even I think that’s not a particularly reasonable approach, nor would it be likely to be effective. Especially since it would, effectively, make it impossible to use a weapon for “self-protection,” which, it is argued, is one of the major reasons to own a weapon, or twenty. But, how many shootings have been committed by people who simply took the weapons used from a friend or family member who had obtained that weapon legally?
I can hear some saying that the Second Amendment says that “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Yes, it does say that. But, as a preamble to that, it also says “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, ….” The argument seems to revolve around what is meant by that first clause, although it appears to me that it is usually just ignored, as it seems to imply an obligation for universal military training, commitment, and regulation. As best I can tell, the Supreme Court has just ignored it as outdated.
However, the “… right to keep and bear arms ….” has been regulated in many ways and so has been judged not to be an “absolute” right. There are laws as to who can have weapons. Felons, for example, are fairly routinely barred from legal gun ownership. The “mentally ill” are not supposed to have weapons. Many types of weapons are disallowed for civilians use (see above). The ability to carry concealed weapons (not just guns) is controlled by various laws which differ from place to place, so it is NOT an “absolute” right. “Concealed carry” laws, apparently, do not violate the 2nd Amendment as they are in place and enforced in many places, etc. I can’t even carry my “keychain” Swiss Army knife into the courthouse or on an airplane because the 1 ½” blade is too much of a threat. Therefore, the idea that a person has the “right” to own and carry (keep and bear) weapons without restriction is obviously not true.
I believe that in most states (perhaps all) the ability to own and/or drive an automobile requires such things as liability insurance, licensing, some sort of testing as to how such a vehicle can be used legally, rules of the road, etc. Of course, automobile usage is a “privilege,” not a “right,” so, of course, it can be restricted without challenge. Now, there seems to be some dispute as to whether there are more deaths due to automobiles than by firearms, but both of these numbers are absolutely appalling.
I have no “instant solutions” to offer, just a real despair over the fact that our national “leaders” are, apparently, too afraid to even discuss ideas which MIGHT provide minimal control over the access to and use of, essentially, military weapons in the face of their all too common use in schools, churches, synagogues, temples, offices, shopping centers, etc. I am not against responsible gun ownership! But I believe that “responsible gun ownership” implies at least reasonable attempts to prevent the use of weapons for the purposes of public slaughter.
Until we, as a body politic, are willing to at least discuss this situation and insist that our elected officials take the problem of mass shootings with some degree of seriousness, we are going to continue to have the highest rate of gun violence in the “civilized” world. We are AWASH with unregulated, uncontrolled and poorly supervised firearms. Until we insist that SOMETHING must be done to at least attemptto do something about that, we will have to simply accept that politicians will continue to offer their “thoughts and prayers,” but that they will DO nothing to actually protect our society and allow us to “live long and prosper.”
Consider this when you contemplate your next voting opportunity. I’m tired of watching people peacefully going about their business die “live and on the air.” I’m glad that my kids are grown and don’t have to put up with “shooter” drills. I lived through the “duck and cover” days of the 1950’s. (Did anyone ever really think that crawling under your school desk provided meaningful protection against atomic weapons?) I had hoped my grandchildren wouldn’t have such experiences as a part of their education. Oh, well, maybe the next generation….