Two weeks ago, in the wake of a mass shooting in Southern California, satirical online newspaper The Onion sadly, poignantly, strikingly summed up the United States’ gun culture. The headline: “ ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” The truth of that statement would be humorous if it were not so painful. We have a problem in this country, and our failure to deal with it is shameful.
The latest example arrives from Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Ore., where a gunman killed a student Tuesday. This came two days after five people, including two police officers and the two perpetrators, were killed in Las Vegas. Which came three days after a student was shot to death at Seattle Pacific University. Which came weeks after the rampage that left seven dead in Isla Vista, Calif.
Aurora, Colo.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Newtown, Conn. … each of them has been the site of a mass shooting in just the past two years, leading to breathless debate over guns and gun control and the culture of violence in this country. Now, the issue has hit painfully close to home, with Reynolds High School sitting 15 miles from downtown Vancouver.
Not that everybody thinks this is a problem. Josh Blackman, in conservative publication The American Spectator, wrote Monday, “Contrary to what the zeitgeist may suggest, mass shootings are not on the rise. Prominent criminologist James Alan Fox has found ‘no upward trend in mass killings’ since the ’70s.” Therein lies the problem. If we as a culture are willing to accept this as the norm, to consider mass shootings a part of life, to throw up our hands and say there’s “no way to prevent this,” then we truly are lost. Americans should be better than this, and we should demand more from our leaders.
In 2013, despite polls showing that at least three-fourths of Washington residents favored universal background checks for gun purchases, the Legislature ignored a House bill that would have required such checks. Even if the votes were not there to pass the bill, bringing it to the floor and forcing lawmakers to put their opinions on the record would have been informative for the public. For too long, the gun debate has been less of a debate and more of legislative bullying by powerful interest groups.
This year, Washington voters will have two opportunities to weigh in on the issue. Initiative 594 on the November ballot would require background checks on all firearms in the state, including those at gun shows and between private parties. On the competing side, Initiative 591 would prevent the state from enacting background checks more strict than the federal standard, and would prevent the government from confiscating firearms without due process. Both measures are certain to draw attention — and financial backing — from throughout the country.
Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association has suggested that the solution to mass shootings is to have more people carry guns. That we should celebrate our gun culture by carrying long weapons in public. That we should do everything we can to fight any measure of gun control.
We think this nation is better than that. We think we can enact background checks to help keep guns out of the hands of lunatics. We think the Second Amendment can coexist with reasonable measures to protect the public. Will gun control keep guns out of the hands of all bad guys? Will it eliminate mass shootings in public places? Will it create a utopian fantasy land? Of course not. There is no perfect solution. But it’s shameful if we don’t even try.