I’m frustrated by the endless cycle of the gun control issue: Mass shooting, followed by calls for legislation, followed by diversionary arguments that all derive from the granddaddy of them all: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” followed by stalemate and silence until the next mass shooting. Over and over. Except that every once in a while the shootings occur in quick succession, or involve children, or something so that everything falls in line in order to get some kind of legislation passed. And, of course, the legislation is never enough, or is misguided, or whatever. And then, another mass shooting and we’re back into the cycle.
I’m frustrated by a political process that doesn’t actually work to solve the problem. (And I say that with all due respect for Senator Murphy and all the others who have worked for years to achieve some amount of legislative success. However, we know that their success, effective as it may be in some ways, will not solve the problem.) The solutions our political process generate are politically acceptable solutions. I don’t think Congress ever makes a serious effort to consider and solve the problem.
Here’s what the problem looks like to me:
- We have a second amendment, it says what it says, and it is almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which it would be repealed. The discussion has to begin with a recognition that the second amendment will limit solutions (until we change it).
- Mass shootings that make national headlines are not the problem, and there is no legislation that is going to stop those mass shootings from happening. Horrible as they are, shootings where more than ten people are killed are random events. No matter how we change the mental health system, no matter what we can achieve with respect to registration and red flags, some extraordinarily misguided people will go on occasional shooting sprees. We may stop some, but we won’t stop them all. More to the point, large-scale mass shootings account for only a tiny portion of total U.S. gun deaths.
- Mental health is not the problem. Our mental health system in this country is woeful, and the extent of the national neglect of mental health is shameful. The irony is that the only thing that will cause the Congress and the states to address mental health is the slaughter of school children. Whatever gets through Congress this time around will not fix a broken mental health system. The one arena where improved mental health services could have real impact is suicide prevention. However, the data are pretty clear that the best way to reduce suicides in the United States is to reduce access to guns, not to increase mental health funding. In truth, change in both arenas is needed.
- The problem is the urban carnage, week in and week out, that results from largely unfettered access to firearms, particularly by poor and struggling young people. The problem is late night shootings on the streets and at social clubs, and shootings involving family members, friends, and neighbors. The persistent, daily threat of violence that pervades some urban neighborhoods impacts the lives of hundreds of thousands or millions of people. People are dying, others are losing loved ones, and many, many more people fear for themselves and their families.
- Many people who live in rural America, particularly but not exclusively in the West, frankly don’t care that much about the urban carnage. They live where they live because they don’t want to live in a city. In their view, cities have a lot of problems, poor people shooting each other being just one of them.
- And those same people in rural America want guns, need guns, and have guns. Not only are they not overly concerned about violence in American cities; there are few things more important to them than their right to own and use guns. Carolyn and I recently spent some time in the Southwest, and I get it. If I lived 20, 30, 50 miles from the nearest mailbox, I’d have a gun, too. Even in the cities, the ever-present awareness of the desolate wilderness all around reinforces the feeling to maintain personal security.
- Any rational solution must be found in better and stricter firearms control in urban America. States must be permitted to regulate the sale and possession of firearms in urban areas that exceed a certain population density. I’m not saying it’s possible to achieve such a goal in this, or maybe any, political climate. The Supreme Court’s most recent decision apparently goes in exactly the opposite direction. I’m saying it’s where a practical solution, a real solution, might be found – make the cities safe for their residents, leave the people who care most about firearms free to have their guns.
- Any meaningful change probably would necessitate a change to the second amendment. I’d suggest a change that leaves the second amendment wholly applicable to the federal government, just as it is now, but that affords each state some greater latitude to regulate firearms. Political realities make it more or less impossible for politicians to lead such an effort. A long-term national grass-roots campaign is necessary, much like the temperance and women’s suffrage movements. The people must speak. In particular, the people in urban America must speak to people in rural America to enlist their support.
- Are there problems with this? Oh, you bet there are! Blacks will say it’s simply an effort to disarm them and let the white people keep their guns. And it would have that effect, to some extent. But I’d guess that most Black people living in those terrorized neighborhoods would say they’re in favor of regulation that will get the guns off their block. Some people will say they’re no more comfortable with their states controlling guns than the feds. They don’t trust government, period. Some will worry that more state-by-state control will result in some states being effectively disarmed and others being hyper-armed. Throw those excuses on the pile along with “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” The bottom line is that we know we cannot have a safe and comfortable modern world if we permit more or less unlimited access to firearms. We can assure reasonable gun ownership and reduce firearm violence in our cities. People need to talk about how to achieve that goal.