What will it take to penetrate America’s gun culture?
The vast majority of people in the United States who support common-sense regulations about guns once again are forced to throw up our collective hands in disgust and sorrow at the latest school shooting and the epidemic of gun violence in this country.
By some counts, there have been 142 school shootings since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 children and six adults in December 2012. There have been 45 such shootings just this year. The average is almost one school shooting a week. Some media organizations put the number lower, at 94 or 95 school shootings since Sandy Hook. But whether it’s 142 or 94, that’s still way too many shootings and victims.
The latest tragedy is the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., where a shooter with multiple guns killed nine people and injured nine more before he killed himself. Oregon has few gun regulations. And despite reports by right-wing media that guns were banned on campus, there are no such restrictions. A “good guy with a gun” was not able to stop the killings — that was done by an Army veteran and student who charged the gunman, getting shot himself in the process.
Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin, who is in charge of investigating the deaths, pointedly took no questions at a news conference after the shooting. No wonder. In 2013, he posted a YouTube video with “truther” conspiracy theories casting doubt on the Sandy Hook shooting that got millions of views (the post was taken down a day after the Oregon shooting). Hanlin also wrote a letter to Vice President Joe Biden in 2013, saying that if any of the proposed gun restrictions spurred by Sandy Hood passed, he wasn’t going to enforce them, echoing the words of right-wing groups like the Oath Keepers.
I guess the facts seem a little different when the shooting is in your own community, right, Sheriff?
The number of deaths at school shootings doesn’t include other gun-related deaths in the U.S. President Obama challenged news organizations to compare the number of people killed by guns and the number killed by terrorists. A chart, done by Steve Benen at the Maddow Blog and using data from CNN through the State Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows that the results aren’t even close.
People are shot daily across the U.S., and not only by guns purchased legally. In Chicago, which has suffered an epidemic of gun deaths, many of those killings are done by people firing guns bought outside legal boundaries. As an editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times said: “Our city ranks among the highest in the nation for gun violence, but does not rank high for overall violence or homicides committed without guns. Police here confiscate seven times as many guns per capita than they do in New York. … Illegal guns are killing our city, body and soul.”
A Chicago man convicted of gun trafficking — buying guns at gun shows in Indiana and selling them on the street in Chicago — got a mere three-year prison sentence, and he’ll probably be out in less time than that. Yet he’s just as culpable for deaths from those guns as those who did the shooting. In Indiana, as in 32 other states, it’s perfectly legal for a gun owner to sell a gun at a gun show where there are no background checks on buyers.
After the Sandy Hook tragedy, Vice President Biden was given the task of developing legislation to stem at least some of the gun violence. The proposals, which are backed by large majorities of U.S. citizens, sometimes by as much as 90 percent, included universal background checks, limits on magazine size, and bans on some assault rifles. Despite bipartisan support in the Senate, the Senate could not get past the threat of a Republican filibuster to even vote on the proposals.
Whenever gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association and its affiliates spout off about the Second Amendment, it’s important to remember that the 2008 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in D.C. v. Heller did not give gun owners unlimited rights when the court struck down the handgun ban and other ordinances in the District of Columbia. “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia, hardly a bastion of liberal thought.
At a news conference after the Oregon shooting, a visibly angry Obama told the nation that “thoughts and prayers are not enough.” Predictably, gun rights groups criticized Obama for “politicizing” the tragedy. “The politics have to change,” Obama said.
Obama pointed out that the U.S. is the only Western country with high levels of gun deaths, and said it was because of the number of guns and few restrictions against obtaining them. “You can’t kill as many people when you don’t have easy access to these kinds of weapons,” he said.
In 1996, a mentally ill Australian man shot and killed 35 people and injured 18 in a two-day rampage of violence. It took the Australian Parliament just 12 days to pass strict gun control laws, limiting and prohibiting the sale of various semi-automatic weapons. There hasn’t been a similar incident since. In 2012, there were only 30 homicides by firearm annually in Australia, according to figures from the United Nations. Contrast that with the more than 33,000 gun deaths each year in the U.S.
Many in the U.S. thought Sandy Hook would be a turning point. Surely even Congress could pass common-sense restrictions backed by up to 90 percent of the population after 20 young innocent children were gunned down. But it didn’t happen — legislators are just too scared of the NRA and gun rights voters.
What’s it going to take? How many more have to die?