I wrote this a decade ago. Outside of some minor formatting changes, it appears exactly as I wrote it in 2007. I decided to republish this story today to make this point: Outside of the now-expired assault weapon ban, we haven’t made any significant changes in national firearm policy and the massacres continue unabated. Shame on us.
Every time we have a mass murder related to guns, talking heads on TV start out by saying that it is the easy accessibility of guns in this country that makes violence so deadly. [The United States has higher rates of firearm ownership than do other developed nations, and higher rates of homicide.] Then slowly, but persistently, the “pro guns-for-everyone” folks mouth some variant of the NRA message that guns don’t kill, people do.
Yes, I agree, mass murderers can still wreak havoc even in the absence of guns. But, let’s get real…how many people could a killer kill if he only had a knife? In the case of today’s horrendous crime on the Virginia Tech campus, I would suggest that it is highly unlikely that 33 young college students would be dead tonight if the lone assailant only had a machete.
Gun ownership and gun laws
I understand the arguments for gun ownership. Some people like to hunt and some people feel better when they own a gun for self- or family protection. I have a harder time with the argument that, if everyone was armed, it would serve as a deterrent to the bad guys. Do you seriously think that today’s tragedy would be averted if all of the college kids (and/or their teachers) were packing guns?
The propensity to commit violent acts is multi-faceted. Many perpetrators of violence are themselves victims of violence, particularly family violence, and in some cases, school bullying. We need to acknowledge and actively try to identify individuals with these risk factors in order to prevent future violence. But, while we are trying to identify, counsel, and advise these folks, we must enact interventions that will make it less likely, or better yet, impossible, that these potentially violent people can or will use their favored means of killing…guns.
That means we need not only to enforce existing gun laws, but we need to enact new, more targeted firearm legislation that will allow us to craft solutions that are far more effective than what we have in place to date.
Years ago, when I was active in the violence prevention arena, I was interviewed by Voice of America. The interviewer asked me what I wanted to talk about. I said either gun violence or domestic violence. He said not to bother talking about gun violence because the rest of the world thought Americans were the laughing stock of the world when it came to firearm policy.
Pro-gunners often twist the facts to say that other countries have the same gun availability as the U.S. A common argument is to say, “Look at the Israelis. All the young people have guns.” Yes, young adults in the Israeli Army all have Army issue rifles, but there are strict rules about when or where they can be used. That is a very different situation from what we have in America. Youngsters here tell me that if I give them “$20 and 20 minutes”, they can get any type of gun I want—no questions asked.
Come on, folks! There has to be a middle ground between “confiscating everyone’s guns” and free accessibility of guns for anyone, everyone, anytime, any place.
Let’s not let the urgency of today’s situation be replaced by the rhetoric of people who have a lot to gain by continued sales of guns to as many people as they want to get their hands on an instrument whose primary usage is shooting something living (yeah, I know about the joys of target shooting, but let’s face it…most people who strongly advocate gun ownership aren’t getting lathered up about their right to continue participating in those activities).
We need all cards on the table
Ok, you may want to label me a bleeding heart liberal. But I would more accurately be labeled as a mother of kids who went off to college and survived. I can’t even imagine the pain of the parents of today’s victims of the gun violence on the Virginia Tech campus. You send your kids off to college with a sense that, because of their upbringing, they are ready to take on life’s challenges. But, how many parents prepare (or want to prepare) their kids for college by talking about how to avoid being shot. Come on, now. This is sick.
Let’s put all of the cards back on the table again. If aggressively limiting access to guns means fewer kids killed, let’s do it, now. We need to stop being afraid to be bold on the role of guns in violent death. We need to stop being manipulated by people who have a lot of gain by selling guns to anyone and everyone with a buck. We need to empower and fund reputable organizations to perform the research on violence and violence prevention. (It has effectively disappeared from the Center for Disease Control’s research agenda in the last six years). We need to put the health and safety of our kids ahead of any other political agenda. Can we possibly value gun ownership more than the safety of our kids at school?
If our past actions are a predictor of the future, then this is what will probably happen. Time will pass and the rawness of our emotions, so exposed right now in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech Massacre, will dampen. We will start to waffle on any enthusiasm to pursue rational gun control…we simply won’t care as much as the folks who profit from profligate sales of firearms. And then, we will be right back to where we have been for the last twenty or thirty years, waiting for one more (short-fused) time bomb to explode onto our campuses and into our national psyches.
How many more school kids need to get shot to death? How much more campus blood and gore do we need to see? How many more unbearable tragedies do American families need to endure before we finally stand up and demand a change in our national firearm policy?