We have a gun problem, and it’s totally the right time to talk about it

Here we are, reeling again from another uniquely American gun massacre. Cue the same debate on gun control, the same arguments with family members and friends on Facebook. The same finger-pointing, the same lack of progress. The snake eats its tail, over and over, forever and ever, amen.

Each time a mass shooter strikes in America, we hear the same tired refrains:

This is not the time to discuss gun control.
It’s totally the time to discuss gun control. It has been the time again and again, over and over, as we have witnessed mass-shootings become more frequent and more deadly. If it wasn’t the time after Sandy Hook, when 20 children aged 6 and 7 were slaughtered in their own school, it certainly is time now. We should flood the phone lines of every member of Congress demanding it, and we should vote out every member of congress who tweeted ‘thoughts and prayers’ after gladly accepting NRA cash each election cycle.

Our president, who called for a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the country days after the San Bernardino shootings, thinks now is not the time to discuss gun legislation. Maybe this is because the NRA spent $30.3 million to get Trump elected.

How many of these same ‘it’s not the time’ folks thought it wasn’t the right time to talk about terrorism on 9/12/01?  It’s always time to talk about reducing the number of Americans whose lives are cut short by senseless violence.

Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.
OK, sure. Guns technically don’t kill people. That’s true. But have you ever tried killing 59 people and injuring 527 from 1200 feet away with a knife?

So, yes, while it’s the people who choose to kill, guns make it insanely easy to kill a lot of people in a very short amount of time. They are designed to do so.

If a guy rams a car into a crowd of people, are we going to outlaw cars?
First, most who are looking to address gun violence are not interested in outlawing guns. Secondly, no. But since we’re bringing up cars, it’s important to remember that cars were not invented with the sole purpose of firing a metal projectile at high speed into human flesh. But, yes, there is a risk to operating a car, and we have found some very effective common-sense ways to mitigate that risk.

Via The New Republic:

Operating a firearm, like operating a motor vehicle, requires a license in many jurisdictions. Certain types of criminal offenses – domestic violence in the case of firearms, drinking and driving in the case of automobiles – can result in a suspension or revocation of that license. These rules focus on the competency of users.

But, the regulation of cars goes beyond this by establishing a larger web of regulatory relationships around the technology itself.

As anyone who owns and operates a car knows, it must also be titled to establish ownership, registered to allow use of public roads and insured to protect owners and victims in the case of vehicle accidents. These requirements create an incentive for responsible conduct by drivers looking to avoid traffic tickets and insurance premium increases. It also helps finance a network of public and private entities, including police officers and insurance companies, to help keep track of cars.

Trips to the DMV notwithstanding, the regulatory burden of owning and operating a car has done little to diminish Americans’ love affair with the automobile.

Regulating guns like cars would thus require a new set of regulations that would reward the responsible purchase, possession and operation of guns, and build the regulatory framework to enforce it.

This is a more tried and true approach to managing dangerous technologies than the simplistic prohibitionist logic of simply keeping guns away from those we categorize as “the bad and the mad.”

Owning guns is a right protected by the 2nd Amendment
While scholars continue to debate what exactly the framers meant when they wrote the 2nd Amendment, we can all agree that it was written a long time ago. This guide for how we should govern weapons was written before the invention of matches. Before the bicycle, or the typewriter. Before the safety pin, anesthesia, or the zipper. Before the ball bearing. The framers wrote the 2nd Amendment the same year that the guillotine was invented.

If you told the Founding Fathers that one day there would be music festivals with electric instruments being played through a PA system to an audience of 22,000 people who descended upon a city that features miniature replicas of the Eiffel Tower and New York City to listen to country music, and that a man with 24 weapons in the 32nd floor of a gambling saloon would fire 9 bullets per second at speeds of 2,000 to 3,000 feet per second, easily covering a third of a mile, into the crowd, killing 59 and injuring over 500, they would have put you in the very first psychiatric hospital (which opened just 16 years prior). If they believed you, however, I think we all agree that they probably would’ve added a few more lines.

Imagine you were tasked today with writing laws that would govern the use of weapons in the year 2243. That’s basically what our Founding Fathers did when the 2nd Amendment was penned 226 years ago. You better believe that what you write today will not even come close to addressing what life will be like in America circa 2243. You would be insane to think otherwise.

We’re insane to think that the 2nd Amendment is any different.

Even Thomas Jefferson understood that our Constitution was not immune from change as society evolved:

“I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

The shooter was crazy / liberal / conservative / radicalized / etc.
Our society loves this blame game. As soon as the bodies hit the ground, people are looking for indications that it was a left-wing looney, a right-wing nut-job, or an Islamic jihadist. No matter the motive or ideology, this was a) someone who clearly was not mentally healthy, and b) someone with access to way too many high-powered rifles and way too much ammunition.

We can argue about whose team this guy was on, but the truth of the matter is this is a wholly American problem exacerbated by our unique gun culture. It doesn’t matter what was in this man’s heart or mind. What matters is that he was able to mow down 59 people and injure over 500 in under 10 minutes.

Under perfect conditions, the very men who wrote the 2nd Amendment might have been able to fire 3 times a minute with the typical firearms of the day. In same the 9-minute span that the Las Vegas shootings took place, even the craziest, most radicalized individual using the firearms of 1791 might have been able to shoot — but not necessarily kill — 27 people; a generous estimate, given the inaccuracy of these weapons.

So, let’s just be honest here. Crazy, sane, liberal, conservative — it’s the guns that are making such carnage acheivable.

There is not a law that you could pass that would stop this guy from doing what he did.
This is the laziest, most flawed argument against human progress one could muster. This is like saying that since we can’t cure all cancer, we should just stop cancer research.

Bad things happen. We will never stop bad things from happening. What we can do, however, is find ways to make bad things happen less frequently, or at the very least, minimize the severity of the bad thing when it does happen.

Thirty thousand people are killed by guns every year in America. Even if we found a way to effectively reduce the number of gun deaths by merely 10% in a year, that would save 3,000 lives. That’s 3,000 human beings. Three thousand mothers, fathers, children, or siblings’ lives saved every year by just taking SOME action. We will never eliminate gun deaths, but we are fools to shrug our shoulders and say, “Welp, that’s just the price of freedom.”

What about Chicago? Chicago has the strict gun laws and it’s a war zone!
Oh, that one. Since Chicago’s gun laws have been studied, discussed, and written about by countless legal scholars, let’s take a look at this succinct analysis from Vox:

While it’s true that Chicago has strict gun control laws, those measures can only go so far when its neighbors don’t. After all, people can simply cross the border to Indiana, buy a gun without ever going through even a basic background check, and bring the firearm back to Chicago.

The evidence suggests this happens fairly often — not just in Chicago, but in other places with strict gun laws as well. And the only way to stop it is through the one government that has jurisdiction across the city and state borders where these guns travel through: the federal government…

According to a 2014 report from the Chicago Police Department, nearly 60 percent of the guns in crime scenes that were recovered and traced between 2009 and 2013 came from outside the state. About 19 percent came from Indiana — making it the most common state of origin for guns besides Illinois.

Here’s how it works: Chicago requires a Firearm Owner Identification card, background check, three-day waiting period, and documentation for all firearm sales. But Indiana doesn’t require any of this for purchases between two private individuals — including those at gun shows and those who meet through the internet — allowing even someone with a criminal record to buy a firearm without passing a background check or submitting paperwork recording the sale.

So someone from Chicago can drive across the border — to Indiana or to other places with lax gun laws — and buy a gun without any of the big legal hurdles he would face at home. Then that person can resell or give guns to others in Chicago or keep them, leaving no paper trail behind. (This is illegal trafficking under federal law, but Indiana’s lax laws and enforcement — particularly the lack of a paper trail — make it impossible to catch someone until a gun is used in a crime.)

This isn’t a problem exclusive to Chicago or even the US. A 2016 report from the New York State Office of the Attorney General found that 74 percent of guns used in crimes in New York between 2010 and 2015 came from states with lax gun laws. (The gun trafficking chain from Southern states with weak gun laws to New York is so well-known it even has a name: “the Iron Pipeline.”) And another 2016 report from the US Government Accountability Office found that most of the guns — as much as 70 percent — used in crimes in Mexico, which has strict gun laws, can be traced back to the US, which has generally weaker gun laws.

This pipeline makes it impossible for states to stop the flow of guns used in crimes within their borders, since the root of the problem lies in other jurisdictions. The only way the pipeline could be stopped, then, is if all states individually strengthen their gun laws or if the federal government passes a law that enforces stricter rules, from universal background checks like Chicago’s to mandatory gun buyback programs like Australia’s, across all states.

The evidence suggests this could help: Time and time again, researchers have found that where there are more guns and more access to guns, there are more gun deaths.

In short, more guns mean more gun deaths, and more restrictions on guns mean fewer guns and fewer gun deaths. That’s backed by the research, regardless of what talking points about Chicago from the White House and other conservatives may suggest.

What Chicago has done is laudable, but in and of itself, and without similar legislation from surrounding areas (or federal legislation), it can only be so effective.

That doesn’t mean that the laws don’t, or can’t, work. It just means that this is a marathon and not a sprint, and that the problem requires a multi-faceted, comprehensive battery of initiatives. To think otherwise, or to dismiss Chicago’s efforts, is myopic and naive.

Guns aren’t the problem. It’s morality / mental illness / [insert scapegoat here]
Compared to other high-income nations, Americans are twenty-five times more likely to be violently killed with a gun. The US is not 25 times more immoral than other developed countries. We do not have 25 times the rate of mental illness of these countries. We aren’t 25 times less religious than these countries. We do not experience 25 times the stress or financial hardship of our developed nation peers.

However, despite having only 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has almost half of the civilian-owned guns in the entire world.

We own more guns per capita than residents of any other country in the world.

Despite making up less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States holds 31 percent of global mass shooters.

In America, there is a gun for 89 of every 100 people.

How long until we can agree that the problem is guns? America, as great as it is, simply has too many guns, and a toxic gun culture that our Forefathers could not possibly have imagined, any more than we can predict the weaponry of the year 2243.

If now is not the time — after 59 Americans were slaughtered, and 500+ injured attending an outdoor concert — it will never be time. And it’s not like Americans to accept defeat.

Eric Shepherd

About Eric Shepherd

Eric is a marketing professional working and living in Portland, ME. His writing on politics, science, and culture has appeared on NPR.com, Babble.com, and other national and regional outlets. Eric is also a public speaker on topics related to branding, social media, and cause marketing. He spent 10 years as a recording and touring musician. He has lived up and down the East Coast, but loves Portland the very most.