How about now? Is now a good time to talk about gun violence in the United States and take steps to address it?
The pattern is maddeningly consistent. An abhorrent mass shooting occurs; gun-control advocates say we need to address gun violence; gun-rights advocates say it’s insensitive right now to talk about it; and the scenario repeats with another incident in another locale.
So how about now? How about after at least 19 children and two teachers are murdered by a gunman at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas?
The odds of constructive conversation are slim. This nation’s fetish with gun culture is too invasive and too powerful to allow common sense to have any breathing room. Little has changed since 20 first graders were among the 26 victims in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. Or since 49 people were killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 in Orlando. Or since 60 people were killed in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting.
Given the political intransigeance in this country, there is little reason to think anything will change now. We all are poorer for it.
As the satirical “news” outlet The Onion first wrote in a 2014 headline: “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” That headline has been repeated numerous times, turning from satire into sad and prescient commentary.
Indeed, the United States is the only developed nation where mass shootings are a common occurrence. It is a shameful status that should not be acceptable as unavoidable. To claim that such shootings are the price of freedom is to wrongly sell short our ability to effectively deal with problems.
And we have a problem. All of us do. Accepting mass murder — the murder of schoolchildren — is an act of gross callousness.
On Sunday, The Columbian wrote editorially: “Where will it happen next? Could it be here? Could it be in the bucolic confines of Clark County? Indeed, it could. It could be anywhere.” That followed the racist killing of 10 people at a Buffalo supermarket; it could be written about dozens of incidents in any given year.
Tuesday’s shooting will lead to predictable hand-wringing. We will talk about gun control; we will talk about mental health; some will talk about video games or whether there were signs the shooter was “at risk” or various extraneous issues.
But at the root of all this is America’s gun culture, a culture that is rooted in our founding and our history but has been warped beyond all sensibility.
According to the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based research project, the United States has nearly 400 million citizen-owned guns. That means there are about 120 firearms for every 100 people — by far the highest rate in the world.
Freedom? It is not freedom to be beholden to a culture that assists in self-destruction. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were more than 45,000 gun-related deaths in the United States in 2020 — the highest total in history. More than half of those were deaths by suicide, demonstrating that the need for sensible gun laws is not only about protecting us from others, but protecting troubled people from themselves.
The failure to take those sensible steps is nothing short of a sickness that infects our society and our body politic.
It metastasized Tuesday in the most horrific of fashions — a mass murder at an elementary school. Our refusal to cut out the cancerous symptoms that led to the shooting is a failure on the part of this nation.