How many shootings will it take for us to stop gun violence?
October 8, 2015
There is much to be said in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting, of yet another mass school killing, of yet 10 more gun deaths, of yet another emotional Obama speech, of yet more charges of politicizing a tragedy, of yet more unserious hearings on the intersection of mental illness and gun violence, of yet another candle-light vigil, of yet another politician asking us not to use the killer's name, of yet more magical thinking in that knowing the details, the name, the motive, the costs to the victims and their families and friends will somehow change anything,
There is much to be said, but, of course, it has all been said before. And knowing that it has all been said before — and each time ignored — the hardest part is to not give in to despair.
Politicians aren't allowed to despair. You could have asked Jimmy Carter after his malaise speech. And so, instead, Barack Obama gave in to anger. It was a good choice.
He said we've become "numb" to these shootings — and that numbness is not an option.
He said that the reactions to mass shootings have become "routine," and no one has a better claim to understanding that. By one count, it was Obama's ninth speech following a mass shooting. By one measure — if a mass shooting is defined as at least four people injured in the event — there has been at least one such shooting in every week of Obama's presidency. Yes, every week. You could look it up on Shoot ingTracker.com.
"As I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough," Obama said, his voice rising. "It's not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. It does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America."
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What's routine, he said, "is that somebody, somewhere, will comment and say, 'Obama politicized this issue.' This is something we should politicize. … This is a political choice that we make, to allow this to happen every few months in America."
It's a political choice. It's our choice. We are the ones who let our elected officials let the National Rifle Association get away with saying that what we need are more guns, not gun laws, even if the data show the lack of logic behind every word.
As Obama put it, "Does anybody really believe that?"
I know people who do. We all know people who do. These are the same people, in general, who can't answer the question of why we demand that unsafe cars be recalled but insist that there's no point in even discussing how to reduce gun violence. Instead, they talk of the Second Amendment and "freedom," as if we shouldn't have "freedom" from seeing our children shot and killed.
Mother Jones just published a letter written after Newtown to Joe Biden from the sheriff now leading the investigation of the Umpqua Community College killings. Sheriff John Hanlin was one of nearly 500 sheriffs who wrote letters protesting any new laws in the wake of the deaths at Sandy Hook. He said he would not enforce any laws "offending the Constitutional rights of my citizens."
There's no shortage of statistics on shootings in America. Gun violence is actually down, along with all crime numbers. And, in any case, mass shootings are a very small part of a much larger problem. But The Washington Post quotes Harvard professor David Hemenway, whose research shows, he says, that young people between 15 and 24 are 49 times more likely to be shot and killed in the United States than in so-called peer nations. And what can be routine about that?
Politically, the story is mixed. In a Vox explainer on polls and guns, they show that since Sandy Hook, those supporting gun rights over gun control has actually risen. But if pollsters ask about individual changes in gun laws, as Pew has done, everything changes. We may not want more gun laws in general, but it seems we do want more in particular. Polls show that many proposals have strong support — universal background checks, a federal database to keep track of guns, a ban on semi-automatic guns, a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, a ban on online ammunition sales.
I wrote after Sandy Hook that it was our last, best chance to do something. We weren't numb then. We were shocked beyond belief. These were first-graders, after all.
But that moment passed, and I might have written something along the same lines after Charleston. And then that moment passed. Or maybe it was Lafayette. Or Chapel Hill. I know at least once I mentioned that the issue wasn't guns so much as it was gun violence, and how could we not do something about that.
It's no wonder that the storylines run together, pointless gun deaths followed by periods or grieving and then periods of inaction. And then the cycle starts again. As Obama said in his speech, he wished he could guarantee that there wouldn't be more moments like this, but that he knew there would be.
"Each time this happens, I'm going to bring this up," he said. "Each time this happens, I'm going to say that we can actually do something about it."
It's a long shot, but it's the only shot we have. And maybe there will be a time, after who knows how many times, that we're actually ready to try.
Mike Littwin is a former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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