From Their Cold Dead Hands

This Saturday is the one-year anniversary of the Newtown shooting, and it's remarkable where we've come in that time. In the weeks that followed, everyone said that now we could finally pass some sensible measures to stem the river of blood and death and misery that is the price we pay for America's love of firearms. President Obama proposed some extraordinarily modest measures: enhanced background checks, limits on the kind of large-capacity magazines mass murderers find so useful, perhaps even a new ban on new sales to civilians of certain military-style weapons. Not a single thing that would keep a single law-abiding citizen from owning as many guns as he wants.

So here we are, a year later, and what has happened? First of all, at least 30,000 more Americans have had their lives cut short by guns; tens of thousands more were shot but survived. Around 200 children have been shot to death in that time—another 10 Newtowns. There was no federal legislation on guns. It died, because there are a sufficient number of Republicans (and a couple of Democrats) who, quite frankly, looked on one hand at a child getting murdered, and on the other hand at some armchair Rambo having to go a whole mile to the police station to get a background check before buying an AR-15 from his neighbor, and decided that the latter would be a greater moral outrage than the former.

And in the states, 109 new gun laws have passed, 39 of which restricted gun ownership in some way, and 70 of which expanded gun rights. While it's true that the restrictive laws tended to be passed in larger states, no one could plausibly argue that the result of this seemingly once-in-a-generation moment for a new approach to guns was anything more than the same old approach to guns.

There's a lengthy new report out from the American Psychological Association with lots of recommendations for what we can do to reduce the death toll, things like early interventions for those at risk of committing acts of violence and some modest (of course) policies restricting people with violent histories or certain kinds of mental illness from buying guns. All the recommendations are sensible, and if we did them all we'd certainly reduce the level of gun violence. By how much? It's hard to say—maybe 5 percent, maybe 10 percent, maybe, if we're being absurdly optimistic, 20 percent. Which would still mean tens of thousands of Americans killed every year with guns.

So it's hard not to be cynical, to believe that there's just nothing that can be done. I know that a lot of people I admire don't like to hear that, but it's how I'm feeling at the moment. If 20 elementary school kids getting mowed down wasn't enough to make half of the country take a look at its insistence that everyone be armed to the teeth and say this is crazy, what would it take? A hundred kids murdered at one time? A thousand?

Not even that, I suspect. It's their "culture" and they're sticking to it. My dad took me hunting, and we bonded! And obviously, there's no other way for a father and son to bond. I guess the majority of American fathers that don't shoot with their kids aren't bonding. Pity the fathers and sons in every other industrialized country in the world (all of which have more restrictive gun laws than we do), unable to bond at all.

So it's hard to see when things are ever going to change except in tiny ways that don't make much of an impact at all. Maybe I'm wrong, and real change could still happen. After all, rates of gun ownership are on a steady decline. Gun deaths have declined somewhat too, simply because there's been an overall decline in crime over the last two decades.

But they're still selling them as fast as they can make them. In fact, if you're a gun manufacturer, you probably look back at Newtown as one of the best things that ever happened to your business. Sure, there's some bad publicity, but what else follows a horrific mass shooting? Some futile talk of gun control, which makes it easy to convince your customers that owning four or five guns just isn't enough—they need ten or twenty or thirty, because they could be outlawed any day! Sales go through the roof, but no meaningful legislation passes, and you pocket the profits. When you're in the business of arming murderers, murder is good for business.

Again, maybe I'm wrong about the future. But with the Second Amendment—the Founders' second-worst mistake, behind only the constitutional enshrinement of slavery—under no threat, nothing will change the fact that there's a gun for every man, woman, and child in America. And the bodies will continue to pile up by the thousands, year after year after year.

Comments

"the price we pay for America's love of firearms" -- there's no question a lot of Americans love firearms and cherish a delusion of being made unkillable by them. But I think our ongoing national tragedy is the price we pay for the love of profit shared by weapon and ammunition manufacturers around the world. The fantasies expressed by many NRA members are built and encouraged by a ferocious marketing campaign aimed at destroying even the merest attempt to assign responsibility to gun ownership. There's money to be made! Dead children just don't have enough value to the guns and ammo business to balance that out.

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