I was determined not to write about mass shootings in my column again, though I’ve spoken about them on Facebook and here. It tends to stir up the trolls who generally offer the same insults and talking points, and to echo an overused meme, ain’t nobody got time for that. (Come at me, grammar snobs; I used “ain’t,” and I’m proud of it!)
When do we say “enough”?
I grew up around guns. My grandpa and my brothers and their friends would often hunt (though fishing always held more allure in our family), and I was taught to shoot and to respect guns; in 4-H, we had a gun-safety program that was usually well-attended. Today I still have a healthy respect for guns; I don’t own one because I recognize that I really shouldn’t have one (bad temper and good aim don’t mix well). That doesn’t mean I can’t protect myself, though; I do like to keep my machete sharp.
However, when I was a kid, I was afraid for a while to turn 10 because my friend Lori was that age when she was killed; a friend was showing her one of his dad’s guns when it went off. Had the guns been locked up (and unloaded), she might still be alive now.
And in 1998, I was in the newsroom when word came down of a mass shooting at a school in Jonesboro. For a while I was nerve-wracked, worrying about a friend’s son, because at first the school wasn’t named. I breathed easier when I found out that it was Westside Middle School and not Josh’s school, but later was gut-punched when I realized the teacher who was killed, Shannon Wright, had been my biology lab partner in college.
By now it seems most everyone in the U.S. has been touched in some way, if not by mass shootings, like I was having had a personal connection to someone who died (I refuse to call Shannon a victim; she died protecting students), then by isolated gun homicides, suicides and accidents. And yet we continue to do nothing.
Our patchwork of state laws has ill-served us, and we can’t seem to make headway in Congress thanks in large part to the gun lobby, which serves manufacturers far more than it does gun owners or the Constitution. No matter what is suggested, no matter how common-sense or constitutional it may be, it is generally shot down (pun intended) and nothing changes because it supposedly wouldn’t have made a difference.
Let’s look at a few of those suggestions.
⬆️ Raise the age for all firearm purchases to 21. Axios reported last week that most of the deadliest shootings in the U.S. since 2018 have been perpetrated by males who were 21 or younger. Between 2012 and late 2017, the killers (all men) tended to be between 26 and 64. School shooters tend to overwhelmingly be under 21; a Washington Post analysis found that more than two-thirds were under 18, and the median age was 16.
Federal law prohibits handgun purchases for those under 21, but not shotguns and rifles and their ammunition, which means that some shooters, like Salvador Ramos, can purchase assault-style rifles as soon as they turn 18, when they’re still too young to drink legally. A higher age limit might not make much of a difference for those under 21 who have access to family guns (as the Westside shooters did), but it could keep people like Ramos from getting guns and killing a lot of people (side benefit: It could also reduce suicide rates).
🕐 Institute waiting periods for all gun purchases. Michael Louis, the gunman at the Tulsa hospital, was able to buy his guns legally shortly before last Wednesday’s mass shooting, one of them just hours (an AR-15-style rifle) before, and the other on Sunday (a pistol), according to Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin. Had there been a waiting period, the pain from his back surgery might have receded before he took the step he did. There are waiting periods for abortions; why not a federal waiting period for guns?
🚩 Institute red-flag laws to take guns away at least temporarily from those found by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others. Nikolas Cruz (the gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Fla.) and Ramos are poster children for red-flag laws. Florida passed one after the 2018 Parkland shooting, and it’s been used more than 8,000 times by the state’s judges since then to revoke privileges from people who’ve threatened mass shootings or suicide, or threatened others with guns. Texas, meanwhile, has loosened its gun laws after multiple mass shootings in recent years (which “clearly” helped drive them down … sarcasm). Gov. Greg Abbott initially supported a red-flag law after the 2018 Santa Fe shooting, but quickly backed down. Maybe this time … (I’m not counting on it, though.)
But none of that will stop these things from happening, I hear some of you screaming (rude); it’s not guns, it’s mental health/morals/Hollywood and video games/gangs/etc., ad nauseam.
Except that other countries have those same problems but don’t have the number of mass shootings we do. They also don’t have the NRA directing so much of their legislation.
And seriously, it can’t be all of the above? Life is not a series of binary choices, and neither is this. (And come on, stop expecting schools to teach your kids moral values; that’s the job of the parent. Besides, the blending of a specific religious faith with the public school system is unconstitutional; not every Christian denomination believes the same things anyway, so stop with the calls to bring back McGuffey Readers and other overtly religious “textbooks.” If you want your religion taught in school, send your kid to a private religious school.)
No law will stop anything right away, and they must be enforced, but they can make a big difference (see National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety laws). Doing nothing has changed nothing, except make a lot of people afraid to go to work, the grocery store, the movies, parks, and other public places because of the far-too-easy access to guns. Putting more guns out there (i.e., arming everyone, which would violate the civil rights of pacifists) when there are already more guns than people in the United States isn’t the answer, no matter how many times people bring up the “good guy with a gun” trope; not everyone can or should be armed, and we can’t “harden” everywhere and still profess freedom.
Common sense, though, tells us that limiting access in the manners above will help at least a little.
And that’s better than nothing.