I do a podcast called “How Do We Fix It?.” And it would be good thing if we could get a conversation going about gun crime. One that went somewhere and introduced some new ideas.
But I’m not sure it’s possible.
It’s been a week since the Umpqua Community College massacre in Oregon and America’s debate over guns is still poisoned by anger, fear and incredulity. It is possibly the worst example of how polarized our politics have become.
One side pretends the Second Ammendment doesn’t exist, while the other insists that levels of gun ownership have nothing to do with America’s very high rate of gun deaths.
Both are wrong.
The ease of buying weapons and our longstanding gun culture lead to large numbers of disputes being settled by firearms. Americans own about 270 million guns, which is more than one for each adult. About 10,000 people have been killed by guns so far this year and more than 20,000 were injured.
The toll in the U.S. is far worse than in almost any other industrialized nation. But ever since white settlers first arrived in the early 1600s, guns have been a fundamental part of the American story. The frontier was settled with guns.
Writing in The National Review, Rich Lowry is right to point out that banning semi-automatic assault rifles and closing gun show loopholes would do little to reduce the number of homicides or horrific mass killings.
Also, you may argue that the U.S. Constitution is a deeply flawed document in this regard, but it very clearly states: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Gun rights opponents often say the bit about “a well regulated militia” confuses the meaning of the second part of the sentence. But let’s say the Constitution gave completely a different reason. Doesn’t matter. The right to keep and bear arms still remains.
The only way to implement strict gun control would be to strike down or alter the Second Ammendment. And that’s not going to happen anytime soon.
Hillary Clinton has called for tighter gun-control, including expanded background checks, but Congress is in no mood to approve them. If elected she’d also consider executive power to achieve her goals. That may please supporters and help win Democratic primaries, but the growing use of executive orders by Presidents of both parties is damaging to our democracy.
Support for gun rights is strong. Many believe passionately and perhaps wrongly that having several guns in their homes makes them safer. The NRA is strong because it has a very large and passionate membership.
As The New York Times reports, in Roseburg, Oregon, the site of last week’s massacre, “Some said they were planning to buy guns. Others said they would seek concealed-weapons permits. Others, echoing gun advocates’ calls for more weapons on campus, said the college should allow its security guards to carry guns.”
Others argue that having guns in churches, schools and supermarkets comes at a terrible cost, making us more suspicious, fearful and less safe.
“Firearms are America’s Pandora’s Box,” writes Justin King in an article with the headline ‘The Facts That Neither Side Wants To Admit About Gun Control.’ The box is open and more legislation won’t have a major impact, he argues. “If you want to change society, you have to actually change the whole of society.”
That’s a conversation that would be worth having. Perhaps it can begin with an honest, compassionate debate about how we treat mental illness and better enforcement of the background checks that we already have.
Photo (above) Jim Wrigley Photography on Flickr Creative Commons license