“When you’re up to your ass in alligators,” the saying goes, “it’s easy to forget that the best solution is to drain the swamp.”
And so it is with gun violence. (More)
Draining the Swamp (Non-Cynical Saturday)
After Charleston and Minneapolis we talked about racism. After Colorado Springs we talked about violent anti-choice rhetoric. Since San Bernardino conservatives moved the topic to radicalized Islam. And all of those conversations are useful.
But we’ve seen over 300 mass shootings so far this year, among the 48,521 incidents of gun violence that have killed 12,282 Americans including over 3000 children and teens. There’s a bit of a lag in that data, but let’s pretend it was up to date as of midnight.
That would be an average 144 gun violence incidents per day. Six an hour. That’s one every ten minutes … about the time it will take you to read this essay.
That would be an average of 36 gun deaths per day. One every 90 minutes … about the time you’ll spend getting your morning coffee and settling into the day.
And on average, nine of those daily gun deaths will be a child or teen. One every two hours and 40 minutes … about the time you might spend in front of a football game, if you go out for snacks at halftime.
“But motives do not matter to the dead”
We can talk about racism, or violent anti-choice rhetoric, or radicalized Islam, or mental illness. It feels like we should talk about those topics, because we’re up to our ass in alligators. But talking about those topics won’t drain the swamp, as the New York Times editorial board explained today on their front page:
But motives do not matter to the dead in California, nor did they in Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut and far too many other places. The attention and anger of Americans should also be directed at the elected leaders whose job is to keep us safe but who place a higher premium on the money and political power of an industry dedicated to profiting from the unfettered spread of ever more powerful firearms.
It is a moral outrage and a national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed specifically to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency. These are weapons of war, barely modified and deliberately marketed as tools of macho vigilantism and even insurrection. America’s elected leaders offer prayers for gun victims and then, callously and without fear of consequence, reject the most basic restrictions on weapons of mass killing, as they did on Thursday. They distract us with arguments about the word terrorism. Let’s be clear: These spree killings are all, in their own ways, acts of terrorism.
“Talking tough on terrorism”
Investigators now believe that what initially seemed a workplace shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., was a well-planned attack by a married couple with at least some contact with Islamic extremists.
The evolving situation has forced Republican leaders and presidential candidates to contort themselves: talking tough on terrorism, yet ignoring the fact that the two were armed to the teeth with two .223-caliber assault rifles and two 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistols, and hundreds of rounds, all purchased legally.
While the nation suffered through the shock of another bloody massacre, on Thursday every Senate Republican except Mark Kirk of Illinois voted against legislation to prevent people on the F.B.I.’s consolidated terrorist watchlist from purchasing guns or explosives.
As the Times explains, Republicans love to talk about the terrorism … yet they continue to arm terrorists:
“If you need proof that Congress is a hostage to the gun lobby, look no further than today’s vote,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, who sponsored the terror watchlist measure.
In the hours after the attack in San Bernardino on Wednesday, President Obama specifically mentioned that legislation as an important security measure. “Those same people who we don’t allow to fly can go into a store in the United States and buy a firearm, and there’s nothing that we can do to stop them. That’s a law that needs to be changed,” he said on CBS News. The George W. Bush administration backed the terrorist-list bill in 2007.
No matter. The House speaker, Paul Ryan, issued his party’s weak defense of arming potential terrorism suspects on Thursday morning: “I think it’s very important to remember people have due process rights in this country, and we can’t have some government official just arbitrarily put them on a list.” Mr. Ryan’s Senate colleagues demonstrated that they are more worried about the possibility that someone might be turned away from a gun shop than shielding the public against violent criminals.
“It’s always the same story”
Times columnist Gail Collins added her voice:
Would it be absolutely cynical to say the Senate responded to what appears to be a terrorist mass shooting by declining to ban the sale of guns to people on the terrorist watch list?
Nah. Let’s go for it.
This week the Senate voted on two proposals to toughen the nation’s gun regulations in the wake of the San Bernardino murders. The other one would have tightened loopholes in the background-check law that are currently the size of the Pacific Ocean. Both failed on basically party-line votes.
It’s always the same story. The San Bernardino murderers were wielding assault rifles, with which they were able to fire an estimated 65-75 bullets in rapid succession. Assault weapons, which seem to be the armament of choice for mass shootings, used to be illegal under a law that expired in 2004. If the law had stayed on the books, how many victims would have survived in San Bernardino, or at the elementary school in Newtown, Conn.? Given the fact that semiautomatic weapons are totally inappropriate for either hunting or home defense, some of us would love to trade them for the possibility of reduced casualties next time somebody decides to go on a rampage.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is an excellent example of the politicians who totally disagree. Last time an assault weapons ban came up, he argued that Americans should not be forced to rely on regular slowpoke rifles “in an environment where the law and order has broken down, whether it’s a hurricane, national disaster, earthquake, terrorist attack, cyberattack where the power goes down and the dam’s broken and chemicals have been released into the air and law enforcement is really not able to respond and people take advantage of that lawless environment.”
In other words, let’s all be Doomsday Preppers … and ignore the fact that every day is doomsday – at the barrel of a gun – for 36 Americans. Including 9 children or teens.
“America has 4.4 percent of the world’s population but almost half of its civilian-owned guns”
Banning gun sales to people on the terrorist watch list seems like an obvious first step. So does banning military-style semi-automatic rifles and large-capacity magazines, whose sole purpose is to mow down human beings with maximum efficiency. So does requiring universal background checks for all gun transfers, and tracking ammunition purchases so we know when someone is stockpiling thousands of rounds.
But let’s be clear about precisely what kind of choice this is. Congress’s decision not to pass background checks is not what’s keeping the US from European gun violence levels. The expiration of the assault weapons ban is not behind the gap. What’s behind the gap, plenty of research indicates, is that Americans have more guns. The statistics are mind-blowing: America has 4.4 percent of the world’s population but almost half of its civilian-owned guns.
Realistically, a gun control plan that has any hope of getting us down to European levels of violence is going to mean taking a huge number of guns away from a huge number of gun owners.
And most of those gun owners are white men. So are the overwhelming majority of elected officials, and data show race and gender matter – a lot – in terms of legislative action. It turns out that white male politicians are more likely to enact policies favored by white men than policies favored by women or people of color. Shocking, I know.
Yes, there are massive structural challenges to enacting effective gun control. But we’ll have to meet those challenges in order to drain the swamp of gun violence.
The rest is just talking about this alligator, or that one, or the next. And talk won’t save the 36 Americans who die every day from gun violence. Including the one who died since you started your morning coffee.
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