In the wake of another mass shooting, the debate has, predictably, turned to guns. Thatâ€™s a good thing, because honest debate is needed to cut through the white noise and ascertain the truth about both guns, and, more important, why these massacres keep occurring.
Hopefully, both sides will shoot straight with the facts and aim for the moral high ground by respecting each otherâ€™s views. But if the target remains those whom we can most demonize, we will have accomplished nothing.
To that point, several statements made in the wake of Las Vegas are unforgiveable. Commentator Keith Olbermann labeled the National Rifle Association a â€œterrorist organization,â€ which is akin to holding a beer company responsible for drunk drivers killing people. Then we had psychiatrist Michael Welner on Fox News say that â€œCNN is going to have to answer for how they demonize gun enthusiasts and how CNN actually contributes to mass shootingsâ€ â€" which inexcusably deflected full blame from the sole person responsible: The shooter himself. And a now-fired CBS executive had the gall to state, â€œIâ€™m actually not even sympathetic because country music fans often are Republican gun-toters.â€
Comments such as these arenâ€™t just salt in the wound of victims â€" and all Americans, since we share this tragedy â€" but make both sides dig in further. Regardless of oneâ€™s position, those shameful statements merit our scorn.
Now on to the guns. Consider:
1)Excepting wars, the two greatest massacres on American soil did not involve a single gun. The 9/11 attacks killed 2,996 while wounding 6,000. And Timothy McVeigh, the all-American boy-next-door, killed 168 and injured 680 when he blew up the Oklahoma City federal building.
Someone as unstable as the Vegas shooter, hell-bent on killing as many as possible, will find a way to do just that â€" regardless of gun bans. Unhinged people planning crimes of that magnitude will simply not be deterred by laws regulating how many weapons can purchased in a month, what types of guns can be bought, and how much ammunition they hold. Criminals, by definition, donâ€™t abide by the law.
Put another way, had there been a gun ban, the Vegas murderer would not have shelved his plans in favor of resuming a â€œnormalâ€ life of cookouts and ball games. He had snapped, and no law was going to stop him from executing his vision. Undoubtedly, he would have found an alternate way to kill.
2) Mass shooters are as dangerous as suicide bombers and Kamikaze pilots, because it is virtually impossible to stop someone who has decided, one way or the other, that he will not live to see the next sunrise. The primary issues we should be focusing on are how to identify these people before they explode, mitigating their violence, and identifying why people are engaging in this behavior when they werenâ€™t doing so just a generation ago. But civil liberties must not be sacrificed. Life will never be risk-free, but negatively impacting the rights of millions because an individual committed a random act does not make sense.
3) Gun bans wonâ€™t work for a simple reason: Math. Letâ€™s assume that from this day forward, it would be illegal to manufacture any guns. That would leave at least 300 million in America, a stockpile from which a mass murderer could steal, buy on the black market, or purchase at gun shows. Fact is, the Sandy Hook school mass shooter murdered his own mother (obviously a serious crime), and stole her guns (another serious crime) before he entered the school to commit his heinous act. Even Connecticutâ€™s stringent gun laws couldnâ€™t prevent that massacre.
Keep in mind that when the Columbine school shooting occurred â€" the first â€œbig oneâ€ â€" the Clinton-era assault weapon ban was fully in place, thereby proving that such bans are ineffective. (A ban, by the way, which was enacted not on the mechanics or firing rates of guns, but on how certain weapons â€œlooked.â€ The result was banning weapons based on â€œbells and whistlesâ€ and their visual â€œfear factor,â€ even though more powerful, albeit plain-looking, guns remained on the market â€" pure political theatrics: Passing legislation that â€œsounded goodâ€ but affected nothing.)
For those advocating confiscation, think again. Any attempt would be met with opposition so fierce that it would make the Civil War look â€¦ civil. Thatâ€™s not speculation, but hard fact. Not only is gun ownership a Second Amendment right, but Americans do not cede to authority as easily as they once did. In 1933, when the government confiscated gold after making it illegal, most Americans complied, yet that submission would never happen today. Just a few decades ago, few Catholics dared question the church about anything, yet today the opposite is true. And sexual harassment claims are seeing the light of day (Roger Ailes, Harvey Weinstein) that just a few years ago would have been unthinkable to bring forward. Times have changed.
Bottom line: Guns are here to stay, lock, stock and barrel. Discussing confiscation is a waste of time.
4) Many common sense regulations are already in effect, but we can do better, from outlawing devices that transform weapons into a machine guns (bump stocks) to passing Sen. Pat Toomeyâ€™s bill mandating instant background checks for gun show and internet purchases. Those opposing such measures hurt their cause in the eyes of the Great American Middle, who decide all elections.
5) It is not helpful when people make incorrect claims, such as former astronaut Mark Kelly (husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who herself was the victim of a mass shooting). Kelly stated, â€œThirty-three thousand Americans dying every single year from gun violence is completely unacceptable â€¦ We do know that in states that have stronger gun laws, we have less people that die from gun violence.â€
Except that the truth is starkly different. First, of the 33,000 gun-violence deaths Mr. Kelly cites, a full two-thirds are suicide â€" not homicide. Huge difference, so keeping statistics in the proper context is critical. Second, many states and cities with the most stringent gun control laws also have the highest shooting and murder rates, such as California, New York, Illinois (Chicago has the most murders of any city), Delaware (Wilmington), New Jersey (Camden, Newark), Washington, D.C., and Maryland (Baltimore).
6) Truth be told, itâ€™s a miracle that hundreds werenâ€™t killed in Las Vegas. The 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech claimed 32 lives, which, up to that point, was the nationâ€™s deadliest shooting. The victims were murdered by one student using just two handguns, as opposed to rapid automatic fire by numerous rifles from the killerâ€™s advantageous nighttime perch. The point is that many have died in mass shootings from weapons not considered â€œassault weapons,â€ at the hands of individuals who legally bought guns after passing background checks.
And thatâ€™s the crux of the problem.
An assault weapon ban would serve only to make ourselves feel good because â€œwe did something.â€ And since many gun-ban advocates admit that such restrictions wonâ€™t really affect anything, and people are still dying, what would be the point? Impossible as the shooterâ€™s motivations are to comprehend, we cannot push for the wrong things in our quest to explain an unexplainable evil, especially because it wonâ€™t solve the problem.
Instead, itâ€™s time to roll up our sleeves and do the heavy lifting, starting with a hard look in the mirror. We need to figure out what changed so radically from just a few short decades ago to now, as weâ€™ve morphed from relative peace to regularly-occurring massacres.
We need to put partisanship aside, work together, and move quickly. If we donâ€™t, the next tragedy will be upon us faster than a speeding bullet.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His print column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]