By Paul Hanke
Like many others I have been struggling to understand mass shootings. Here are some of my thoughts and questions. First, why does an 18-year-old (or any civilian, really) need a military-style weapon designed to kill as many people as possible in a matter of minutes (to say nothing of hundreds of rounds of ammunition and personal body armor)? And just as importantly, why is owning a so-called assault rifle more important than the lives of children?
If the rationale is taken to be the Second Amendment, consider that the founders, for fear of the destructive results of standing armies in Europe, opted instead for state and local militias, to be mustered in case of emergency. Colonial era militiamen supplied their own single shot, muzzle loaded guns. What “well-regulated” militias do these current mass shooters belong to, and who is regulating them? Moreover, the Founders could not have envisioned the future invention of (semi)automatic weapons, or that certain hotheads would take them into schools and churches for malign purposes.
Why do these assailants do it? Some may be mentally ill (but did not receive appropriate therapy or counseling). Some may be angry young men with poor impulse control. Some may be filled with hatred toward Blacks. Or Jews. Or Muslims. Or their boss. Or their own family members. Some may want to “share” their inner pain or despair with other people or “make a statement” or gain notoriety. Some may seek “death by cop.” In most cases it’s all speculative and we probably will never know the reason before or after the fact. What we do know is that having access to high-capacity rapid-fire weapons greatly magnifies the shooter’s ability to create havoc, bloodshed, and suffering.
It is argued that we should now “harden” our schools against violent assaults. Must we then also harden places of worship, hospitals, grocery stores, subway trains, and outdoor concert venues? (All scenes of mass shootings in the recent past.) All because some people adamantly insist that they should be allowed to indulge their desire to own any kind of gun they want, even those with the most lethal potential for use against the public. Why should any random citizen be allowed to carry such firepower wherever they go? If that’s going to be the case, then let’s issue body armor to every man, woman and child in the country and call the problem solved.
Let’s stop using the term “gun control” and use “gun regulation” instead. Nobody wants to be controlled, but we accept numerous regulations for the purposes of public safety and the common good. As for licensing guns, you need a license just to go fishing, and what degree of harm can be done to multiple innocent victims with a fishing pole? And as for waiting periods and background checks, two of the most recent murderers legally bought their guns the day before or the day of their shooting sprees.
Ironically, after every shooting it is said that we shouldn’t “rush into” doing anything rash, or that “now is not the time.” In the 20th century mass killings began in 1965 and have picked up steam ever since. That’s nearly 60 years ago, so it’s not like we haven’t had time to come up with a solution. And with such incidents now occurring at a rate of more than one per day it appears that the “right” time will never come. So, if not now, when?
What’s more, every time one of these tragedies occurs gun sales reportedly go up, yet another incident soon occurs. Owning more guns is not fixing the problem. Meanwhile, in countries that have prohibited such weapons there has been a rapid and significant decrease in mass shootings. There’s a disconnect here. The relentless proliferation of guns on our streets is making the situation worse, not better. There are now more guns than people in the U.S. (curiously, for some people having too many guns is still not enough), but we are not the safest nation on earth. Far from it. Sadly, the U.S. is the only country where this sickening phenomenon happens in such magnitude, even though it has been widely reported that other nations have gun ownership and mental illness rates comparable to ours.
Millions of people live peaceful and contented lives without possessing guns. Why wouldn’t responsible gun enthusiasts be willing to forego owning a certain specific class of firearms if it would promote public safety and help save innocent lives? Or must we continue to accept wanton killing as the price of some absolutist notion of unfettered personal liberty? It doesn’t have to be this way.
People like guns for various reasons. It may even be part of one’s personal or cultural identity. But we have a serious and increasingly deadly national problem on our hands that is not being effectively addressed. It is costing innocent lives every day. That has to stop. There are certainly many proposed causes of and solutions to gun violence under discussion. Some may have merit, others not. It may very well take a combination of measures to end all this senseless killing, yet some people believe that restricting access to assault-type rifles (and the like) is the only thing that should not be considered. However, based on the success of such restrictions elsewhere, it appears to be the one thing that will actually make an immediate and profound difference. It seems to me that prohibiting access to high-capacity rapid-fire weaponry should be at the very top of the priority list for immediate enactment. Half measures, baby steps, and foot-dragging are no longer in order. Doesn’t it simply make sense that if people did not possess such destructive weaponry there would be fewer of these horrific, unnecessary killings? To end this mayhem, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We don’t need to repeal the Second Amendment. We don’t need to take away everyone’s guns. We just need to look around and do what has successfully been done in other countries.
Hanke lives in Warren.