Jayne: Is now a good time to talk about U.S. mass shootings?

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Editor

Published:

 

Greg Jayne, Opinion page editor

How ’bout now? Is now a good time?

After all, it has been three weeks since a lunatic gunned down 58 people while shooting from a hotel room in Las Vegas. Three weeks since Democrats tweeted about gun control and Republicans tweeted about thoughts and prayers. Three weeks since White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “There will certainly be a time for that policy discussion to take place, but that’s not the place that we’re in at this moment.”

So how ’bout now? Are we at that place yet? Is it time for a policy discussion about why the United States has an epidemic of mass shootings?

I’m guessing the answer from many people is “no.” If the murder of 20 school children and six adults at Sandy Hook in 2012 did not lead to substantive discussion, the odds are that nothing will. Think about that: This country saw 20 first-graders killed in their school and still could not muster the courage to have a debate about what causes such carnage. As a prominent statesman and amateur philosopher would say: Sad!

And so, the echoes of Las Vegas have subsided, already relegated to history and a status of infamy as the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Maybe this desire to ignore that situation is understandable. After all, President Trump has been busy tweeting about NFL players taking a knee and about tax reform and about what he did or did not say to a Gold Star widow. And when he isn’t sending out tweets, he’s busy golfing.

These things, apparently, are of the utmost importance. These things, apparently, deserve more of our attention than gun control or mental health care or a culture in which mass murder is regarded as the cost of freedom.

It is damning when the situation is best summed up by a headline in The Onion, which is, indeed, fake news: “No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” When a satirical news site distills the issue more succinctly than any of our leaders, we should feel ashamed.

And there is much reason for shame. According to data compiled by The Guardian, in 2012 the United States had 29.7 gun homicides per 1 million people — by far the highest among developed nations. Canada had 5.1; Sweden had 4.1; Germany had 1.9. That doesn’t include the fact that nearly half the gun deaths in this country are suicides — or the perplexing fact that many Americans view all of this as acceptable.

Nukes don’t kill people

Of course, one argument against any form of gun control is that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” To borrow a trope from the internet, let’s turn that around. Why should the U.S. care if North Korea has nuclear weapons? After all, nukes don’t kill people; people kill people. Sounds absurd, right? It is.

Whether looking at data by country or data by state, there is clear evidence that more guns mean more gun deaths. There is a reason Alaska, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi have the highest rates of gun deaths among the states. And while Americans make up about 4.5 percent of the world’s population, we own roughly 42 percent of the world’s privately held firearms, according to Vox.com. Seems like a recipe for disaster, and this nation’s unwillingness to deal with it is an embarrassment.

Should the Second Amendment be repealed? Of course not. But it seems that reasonable steps can reduce the carnage while protecting gun rights. From 1994 to 2004, there was a ban on semi-automatic weapons; it probably is not a coincidence that mass shootings have increased since that ban was allowed to lapse. Other countries, notably Australia, have effectively reduced gun deaths. And the fact that Republicans in Congress have prevented the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from studying gun violence is akin to saying lead in drinking water is not a big deal.

As we were reminded three weeks ago, the United States has a huge problem with gun violence. Now is the time to talk about it.