Yet another mass shooting yesterday in Florida – the 18th school shooting in less than two months of the new year – claimed at least seventeen lives. We don’t yet know much about the 19 yr old who committed this crime, nor the exact circumstances of how he got the weapon, an AR-15.
What we do know it this: Our national policy on gun violence is to do nothing. Nothing.
Mass killings happen in schools, in public spaces, in homes. The causes and circumstances are varied and complex: Domestic violence. Mental illness. Rage and retribution. Terrorism. Drugs and gangs. And easy availability of weapons with massive firepower. Together these factors account for most of our gun violence.
Here are a few thoughts that guide me as I think of what to do:
- There are many causes of gun violence - including mass shootings - making it clear that our solutions need to be comprehensive rather than simplistic. Unfortunately, we’ve used the complexity of the issue as an excuse to do nothing. The fact that the young man who committed the crime in Florida had passed a background check does not mean that background checks are pointless. In fact we know that in other mass shootings, a comprehensive, interconnected background check system would have prevented the purchase of the weapon.
- It’s also not the case, as many advocates of inaction claim, that this violence is the result of “evil in men’s hearts”. With rare exceptions, the issue is not evil, it’s anger; or what was called, in the case of the Columbine shooters, “disproportionate rage”. There’s not much we can do about ‘evil’, but there are steps we can take to either help people overcome their rage, or at least keep those filled with it from accessing weapons. This is particularly pertinent when it comes to domestic violence.
- The argument that we need more ‘good guys with guns to stop the bad guys with guns’ has at least two major flaws with it: First, in spite of so many of us having and carrying guns, it is extraordinarily rare that someone has succeeded in stopping a mass shooting because they had a gun. Secondly, the plain fact is that by most accounts, many of the people who commit crimes with guns would have been considered “good guys” right up until the day they started shooting. It’s less about bad guys committing these crimes than it is about angry or disturbed people committing the crimes. Again, there are steps we can take to treat people with these problems, and to keep guns out of their hands in the meantime.
- Lastly, the argument that “this is the price we must pay to live in a free society” is a total cop out. Just because mass shootings have become a feature of American life does not mean that we accept it. Terrorism, or the threats of it, are also now a feature of modern life. But we spend hundreds of billions of dollars to fight it, and we forsake a number of freedoms, including portions of our privacy, in that fight. I’m not arguing that everything we’re doing in the ‘war on terror’ is effective or appropriate. I’m just saying that we’ve decided to fight back against that new reality, to invest in steps to make it less likely. Far more people die in mass shootings each year than are killed by foreign or foreign-born terrorists, yet most Republicans and a few Democrats argue that there’s nothing to be done.
I’m a gun owner who will fight to protect the basic gun ownership rights, whether for hunting, for recreations, for self-protection, or in my case, to keep the groundhog population under control. But a full commitment to protecting fundamental gun rights is not in conflict with taking serious steps to reduce gun violence, steps that encompass improved mental health treatment, greater protection for domestic violence and reasonable steps that keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them and limits on the excess power of some modern weapons.