Once again, America is in anguish after a senseless mass shooting.
Tragedy is followed, inevitably, by a search for answers and explanations. With Newtown, a number of likely contributing factors can be easily identified, including our nation’s scandalously poor treatment of adult mental illness (adult mental health services in America are, in general, a barren wasteland). But all societies have mentally ill individuals, and many others do a poor job of treating and addressing them. And yet they do not experience mass murder shootings like Newtown as frequently as America.
In the end, there is a straightforward explanation for why mass shootings occur here so often- easy access to firearms and high-capacity magazines due to our loose gun laws.
Globally, nations that experience mass casualty shootings typically respond by tightening gun laws. Australia’s regulatory response to the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 is an example of this trend. In the wake of Port Arthur, Australia banned some types of weapons, and instituted a mandatory buy-back program. Prior to Port Arthur, Australia had experienced other mass casualty shootings. There have been none since.
Remarkably, we’ve experienced several Port Arthur-type shootings this year alone- at movie theaters (Aurora), places of worship (Oak Creek, Wisconsin), and now even at elementary schools- and politically, we have done nothing in response.
This is a stinging indictment of our political process; a sobering rebuke of our society. And, in the wake of the massacre of the innocents at Newtown, it must end.
Vowing “never again” means saying yes to gun control.
There are signs of hope. President Obama, for example, has indicated that gun control will be a priority for his administration and has even organized a task force headed by Vice President Joe Biden to look at the issue. But significant obstacles remain- specifically the well-financed and politically powerful gun lobby best epitomized by the National Rifle Association.
Moreover, we are an easily distracted society. We will naturally turn to other concerns as the immediacy of the tragedy and its horror fades. Most of us support more rational gun laws, but this is just one among many competing priorities. And, unlike the gun lobby, supporters of gun control are diffuse and disorganized. As a result, we punch well below our weight in numbers.
That has to change- a point President Obama recognized when he observed that “it’s going to take a wave of Americans ... standing up and saying ‘enough’ on behalf of our kids” in order for gun control to succeed.
We have models for this type of successful popular grassroots organizing- Mothers Against Drunk Driving comes to mind immediately as one example. And it will take that same sort of sustained engagement here in order for us to succeed.
And once we’ve organized, we must push back against the gun lobby’s propaganda machine. It’s obvious that more guns in private hands won’t make us safer, or freer. They will just increase the body count. And it’s impossible to argue that guns are innocent when a smoking Bushmaster and empty 30-round clips are in plain sight in a classroom filled with children’s bodies.
At the same time, we must remember that the vast majority of gun owners are responsible citizens–and not extremists. NRA propaganda frames gun control as an either/or scenario- a choice between two absolutist positions in which any restriction on gun ownership is tantamount to an assault on all gun owners’ rights and the first step down a slippery slope leading inevitably to confiscating all (or most) firearms.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The gun control measures being discussed today- closing the Brady Act’s infamous “gun show loophole” that permits purchases from unlicensed dealers who often do not perform criminal background checks, passing a revamped version of the old Assault Weapons Ban, and prohibiting the high-capacity magazines favored by mass shooters seeking to maximize the carnage they create, are not proposals that would impact the majority of gun owners in any meaningful way.
Regardless of the specific measures involved, the innocent victims of gun violence- including the dead of Aurora, Oak Creek, and Newtown- demand more than words. We must make “enough” an action verb. We must become the wave.
Michael Stafford is a former Republican Party officer and the author of “An Upward Calling.” Michael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org