Another mass shooting in America, this time in Las Vegas. Senseless carnage and death, perpetrated by a nondescript white man using semi-automatic rifles armed with high capacity magazines to rain terror down on the heads of concert-goers. Billed as the worst mass shooting in American history — surpassing the Pulse Night Club massacre — the shooting has aroused social media, filling it with comments from people who, not knowing what else to say, utter the most empty, worthless phrase ever to fall from human lips — my thoughts and prayers are with the victims of ____________.
I understand why people use the thoughts and prayers line. When faced with human savagery and carnage, we search for something, anything to say that might bring the slightest comfort to those harmed by violence. Uttering these words makes us feel better, right? There’s nothing more we can we do for the victims of terrorist attacks or hurricanes, so we throw some empty words towards the sky, knowing that, based on past events, our words will do nothing to change what happened. No matter how many good thoughts or prayers we send out into the netherworld, nothing changes. Why is this? Millions of Christians believe their prayers are heard by God, ignoring that the fact that he never answers them.
What did prayer do for the victims of recent hurricanes? Countless prayers were uttered for the victims in Puerto Rico, and what did God do? Nothing. Mass murderers continue to mow down their victims with impunity. Prayers are uttered. God will do nothing as the next murderer or terrorist plans to maim and murder countless people. As far as I can tell, the only prayers answered by God were those prayed by Evangelicals during the 2016 presidential election. God indeed heard their prayers, blessing America with the forty-fifth president of the United States — Donald Trump. Outside of Trump’s election, God seems to be sitting on sidelines as his creation is ravaged by global warming, war, famine, drought, terrorism, and gun violence.
At the heart of the Las Vegas mass shooting is America’s insane love of guns — more specifically, our worship of a deified interpretation of the Second Amendment. Mention regulating the sale, type, and use of firearms, and the NRA crazies come out of the woodwork to defend their right to own firearms without ANY restrictions (even though recent studies suggest that a majority of gun owners support stricter gun laws).
Gun lovers, using a faulty understanding of the Second Amendment, demand the right to buy and sell guns at will. (Please read Gary Wills’ insightful article on the Second Amendment, To Keep and Bear Arms.) Attempts to restrict gun sales and use are met with hysterical cries about liberals and communists coming to take away our guns! During the 2016 election, right-wingers talked about using “second amendment remedies” to violently overthrow the federal government if the wrong people were elected. The right man won, and as thanks for helping him get elected, Donald Trump loosened gun laws, making it easier for mentally ill people to buy firearms.
Nevada, home to the latest mass shooting, has some of the loosest gun laws in the nation. I am not suggesting that stricter laws would have kept Steven Paddock from murdering and wounding hundreds of concert-goers. No single event can be used to justify stricter (or looser) gun laws. We can, however, take a big step backward and look at gun violence in general and begin asking questions about how best to lessen violence perpetrated by people with handguns, long guns, and semi-automatic weapons. Doing nothing is no longer an option — a refrain I have been singing for the past decade.
First, voting Americans need to understand that only seven percent of gun owners belong to the NRA. Now, this doesn’t mean that non-NRA gun owners don’t support the NRA’s agenda — many of them do. What it does mean is that the NRA plays a larger-than-life part in the gun law debate. Certainly, the NRA and its constituents deserve a place at the table, but it is time for Americans to see that the NRA is more of a chihuahua than a pit bull. Once our political leaders realize this, they will quit fearing NRA retribution if they support strengthening gun laws.
Second, I would like to see the United States adopt similar gun laws to those found in England or Australia. I realize that gun laws must be changed incrementally, but surely our political leaders can stop their bickering long enough to enact meaningful, progressive gun law reform that protects the right to own firearms, while at the same time strengthening gun registration laws (requiring ALL guns to be registered), putting an end to unregulated private gun sales, unregulated gun shows, and the sale of military (and military-like) firearms and accessories.
Australia strictly regulates gun sales and ownership, restricting firearm use to:
- Sport/target shooting
- Primary production
- Professional hunting
- Handgun or clay target shooting (including licences held on behalf of juniors)
- Employment as a security and/or prison guard
- Official, commercial or prescribed purpose or for a purpose authorised by an Act or Regulation.
England, which has the one of the lowest gun homicide rates in the world, has strict gun control laws. According to Wikipedia:
Fully automatic (submachine-guns, etc.) are “prohibited weapons” and require explicit permission from central government to permit ownership. Generally, such permits are not available to private citizens. Semi-automatic rifles over .22 in (5.6 mm) and pistols are similarly “prohibited”, although there are exceptions for short barrelled breech-loading semi-automatic and revolver pistols for use for the humane dispatch of animals (classed under section 5). There are also very limited exceptions for pistols both to preserve firearms of historic or technical interest (classed as section 7 firearms) and to enable use by elite sports teams. Semi-automatic shotguns are restricted to a magazine capacity of no more than two shot and is held under section 2 of the Firearms Act, although a ‘multi-shot’ shotgun can be owned under section 1 (restricted firearms and ammunition) of the Firearms Act. Where the term ‘multi-shot’ is used, this refers to either a Semi-automatic or pump action shotgun with no restriction on magazine capacity. All other rifles and their ammunition are permitted with no limits as to magazine size, to include: target shooting, hunting, and historic and muzzle-loading weapons, as well as long barrelled breachloading pistols with a specific overall length, but not for self-defence; however if a home-owner is threatened they may be used in self-defence, so long as the force is reasonable. Shotgun possession and use is controlled, and even low-power air rifles and pistols, while permitted, are controlled to some extent. A Firearm Certificate issued by the police is required for all weapons and ammunition except air weapons of modest power (of muzzle energy not over 12 ft·lbf (16 J) for rifles, and 6 ft·lbf (8.1 J) for pistols). Shotguns with a capacity of three rounds or less (up to guns with a magazine holding no more than two rounds, in addition to one in the chamber) are subject to less stringent licensing requirements than other firearms and require a shotgun certificate; shotguns with higher capacity require a Firearm Certificate.
Possession of a live firearms round can lead to severe penalties. Live firearms ammunition, other than most shotgun ammunition, may only be purchased and possessed with the authority of a Firearm Certificate. Shotgun cartridges can be possessed by anybody over the age of 15 but no licence is required to hold such ammunition so long as the cartridges contain 5 or more shots. However, a licence covering possession of a firearm capable of firing shotgun ammunition is required for purchase.
The droning tropes of the NRA — if you outlaw guns and only outlaws will have guns, guns don’t kill people, people do, to name a few — must be met with deaf ears, If we can regulate everything from automobiles to soda pop, surely we can come up with new laws and regulations that make it harder for mass murderers and garden variety killers to obtain firearms. I see no justifiable reason for Americans to own semi-automatic, high capacity magazine military-style weapons, nor do I see any reason for ordinary citizens to have access to concealed carry permits.
Nicholas Kristof had this to say today about the Las Vegas massacre:
After the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas, the impulse of politicians will be to lower flags, offer moments of silence, and lead a national mourning. Yet what we need most of all isn’t mourning, but action to lower the toll of guns in America.
We don’t need to simply acquiesce to this kind of slaughter. When Australia suffered a mass shooting in 1996, the country united behind tougher laws on firearms. As a result, the gun homicide rate was almost halved, and the gun suicide rate dropped by half, according to the Journal of Public Health Policy.
Skeptics will say that there are no magic wands and that laws can’t make the carnage go away. To some extent, they’re right. Some criminals will always be able to obtain guns, especially in a country like America that is awash with 300 million firearms. We are always likely to have higher gun death rates than Europe.
But the scale is staggering. Since 1970, more Americans have died from guns (including suicides, murders and accidents) than the sum total of all the Americans who died in all the wars in American history, back to the American Revolution. Every day, some 92 Americans die from guns, and American kids are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other developed countries, according to David Hemenway of Harvard.
So while there’s no magic wand available, here are some steps we could take that would, collectively, make a difference:
1. Impose universal background checks for anyone buying a gun. Four out of five Americans support this measure, to prevent criminals or terrorists from obtaining guns.
2. Impose a minimum age limit of 21 on gun purchases. This is already the law for handgun purchases in many states, and it mirrors the law on buying alcohol.
3. Enforce a ban on possession of guns by anyone subject to a domestic violence protection order. This is a moment when people are upset and prone to violence against their exes.
4. Limit gun purchases by any one person to no more than, say, two a month, and tighten rules on straw purchasers who buy for criminals. Make serial numbers harder to remove.
5. Adopt microstamping of cartridges so that they can be traced to the gun that fired them, useful for solving gun crimes.
6. Invest in “smart gun” purchases by police departments or the U.S. military, to promote their use. Such guns require a PIN or can only be fired when near a particular bracelet or other device, so that children cannot misuse them and they are less vulnerable to theft. The gun industry made a childproof gun in the 1800’s but now resists smart guns.
7. Require safe storage, to reduce theft, suicide and accidents by children.
8. Invest in research to see what interventions will be more effective in reducing gun deaths. We know, for example, that alcohol and guns don’t mix, but we don’t know precisely what laws would be most effective in reducing the resulting toll. Similar investments in reducing other kinds of accidental deaths have been very effective.
These are all modest steps, and I can’t claim that they would have an overwhelming effect. But public health experts think it’s plausible that a series of well-crafted safety measures like these could reduce gun deaths by one-third—or more than 10,000 a year.
It’s too soon to know what, if anything, might have prevented the shooting in Las Vegas, and it may be that nothing could have prevented it. In some ways, these mass shootings are anomalies: Most gun deaths occur in ones or twos, usually with handguns (which kill far more people than assault rifles), and suicides outnumber murders.
But in every other sphere, we at least use safety regulations to try — however imperfectly — to reduce death and injury.
In every other sphere, we at least use safety regulations to try to reduce death and injury, Kristof said, and he is exactly right. We need to do something besides sending up more meaningless thoughts and prayers. Change requires forceful, meaningful, bipartisan action. And if our elected officials refuse to act, we need to shame them out of office, replacing them with legislators that put people over ideology and value saving lives over collecting donations.
I am not anti-gun. For many years, I was a gun owner. My brother is a retired police officer, and my father was an auxiliary sheriff’s deputy. My father was a lifelong gun owner and seller. Dad owned a gun store in Arizona, and frequented gun shows to buy and sell firearms. As a teenager, I manned many a gun show sales table. I am sympathetic towards private gun ownership. That said, I am also sickened by the carnage and havoc perpetrated by people who were able to buy firearms and ammo with minimal or no regulation. Nineteen children a day are wounded or killed by firearms. In 2013, there were 73,505 nonfatal firearm injuries and 33,636 deaths due to “injury by firearms” — more deaths than by car accident. Enough of the carnage! No more thoughts and prayers! It’s time for action. The NRA will certainly object, but it is time for thoughtful, caring Americans to ignore their protestations, and work towards putting an end to gun violence.