Friday, January 14, 2011
Americans dying for their right to guns
Update as of June 12, 2016 - the day after the worst mass killing yet in the U.S., at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Based on the number of mass killings noted in this story and the ones that have happened in the intervening years since I wrote this, there have now been 126 mass killings in the U.S. in the last 50 years.
It’s been a long time since I’ve written on the gun issue. I categorize it with issues like abortion, religion, war and Capital Regional District sewage. Most people's minds are made up, so columns don't have much point.
But this latest mass killing in Arizona can’t go without comment. It’s just too blatant a reminder of what can happen when a country loses a grip on gun control.
I know the U.S. is intense about its citizens’ right to bear arms, even when it means leaving the door wide open for deranged, violent people to lose their minds in a most damaging way.
But surely the citizens themselves must be growing horrified by the truly awful crimes happening in their public spaces. Sometimes even dearly held beliefs need to go by the wayside.
Mass killings like the one in Tucson, Arizona this week are still extremely rare events, of course.
But they’re no longer once-a-generation aberrations like they once were. A 2007 story on the MSNBC Web site reports 100 mass killers in the U.S. since 1966 - the year sniper Charles Whitman climbed a University of Texas tower and started shooting people. Add in at least another dozen in the last three years.
Loose gun laws - laws that most recently allowed a wild-eyed, dangerous young man in the grip of delusion to buy a gun on impulse - have much to do with that.
That’s not to suggest the gun laws are to blame for Jared Loughner’s killing spree. I’m sure any number of wrong turns led to the disastrous decision young Loughner made on Saturday. His being able to buy a handgun in a state that sells them as easily as a pack of smokes was just one of many factors.
But if it weren’t for the Glock in his hand, Loughner couldn’t have done the same damage in such a short period of time. You simply can’t consider the phenomenon of mass public slayings without talking about gun control.
I completely agree with that old saw about how guns don’t kill people, people do. But until we’ve perfected the human being, gun control is all we’ve got.
Fortunately, we live just north of a country that stands as a stark example of what happens when you let that go. Canada has a habit of doggedly following the U.S. into all kinds of trouble on many fronts, but at least on this issue we have taken our own path. May we never stray.
Bearing arms is a constitutional right in the U.S. I don’t think they’re going to give that up. It says a lot that President Barack Obama hasn’t uttered a word about gun control in the days since the Tucson shooting.
But even in a country that views gun ownership as a treasured right, does that require that guns be available to virtually anyone, in every corner store?
One of the popular arguments against limiting sales is that guns are readily available on the black market anyway.
OK, that’s a point. Certainly those in the business of packing guns for illegal activities - gangs, for instance, or professional hit men - would barely register any impact as a result of gun control. Wherever the guns are, they’ll find them.
But it’s not gangs and hit men who are the problem when it comes to the gunning down of random citizens in Safeway parking lots. Nor is it black-market guns.
No, the lone-gunman scenario that has become such a standard story line in the U.S. virtually always involves a deranged, delusional man using a weapon he bought legally. Legal guns are the problem.
The deluge of media coverage on the Tucson killings has brought forward several good points.
It’s true that political rhetoric in the U.S. has reached a fever pitch, in ways that can sound like a call to war to minds that are already fractured and inflamed. It’s also true that expelling an unhinged student from college and leaving him to stew in his own hatred was, in hindsight, an unfortunate development. It’s true that better security at the event might have made the difference.
But Loughner still couldn’t have killed six people with ease and efficiency were it not for the gun in his hand. I hope ordinary Americans wake up to that truth soon.
U.S. gun laws aren’t responsible for producing a mentally unstable young man full of hate. But they did make it possible for him to become a mass murderer.