On Guns, We Lost An Opportunity

April 21, 2009|By DAN RODRICKS

Don't be absurd," a reader of this column, E. Bruce Volensky of Alabama, wrote recently when I suggested in an e-mail exchange that he and other all-guns-at-all-costs advocates seem unfazed by the mass killings that have marked another American spring. "Those of us that support Second Amendment RIGHTS hate gun deaths, perhaps more than you, for it gives you what you seem to think is ammunition (no pun intended) for your cause."

Thanks for the candor, Bruce.

Those in the all-guns-at-all-costs crowd might cringe a little when they hear stories like the one out of Binghamton last month, or the one out of Columbine 10 years ago Monday, or the one out of Middletown (five dead, including three children, murder-suicide) over the weekend. And they fully expect a few of us to claim that a lack of gun control has contributed to an epidemic of impulsive, demented and deadly violence.

But the backlash, the calls for gun control - Bruce and his comrades know this will all pass - that outrage is just a temporary condition.

We don't decry it as much as we used to, and we seem to abide a cynical political culture willing to accept a level of violence that would be unacceptable in other countries.

Even President Barack Obama, the agent of change and hope, seems disinclined to take charge here. Members of his own party have warned him against renewing the federal ban on assault rifles, for instance, so he stands pat, even as weapons spill over the border and enable the gangs in Mexico.

This has been a particularly bloody spring in the United States - with anniversaries at Virginia Tech and Columbine serving as reminders of other horrific Aprils - and we've summoned little more than a shrug about it all.

"REALITY killed the gun control debate," Volensky, the e-mailer from Alabama, went on. "People are finally realizing how foolish 'gun control' is and that they have a RIGHT if not a duty to take responsibility for their own safety. They are finally realizing that criminals are criminals and are not going to obey the laws that hack politicians put in place to appease people such as yourself. They are finally realizing that the only people affected by gun control laws are the law abiding."

There's some truth to that, Bruce.

I'm sure the 13 people who were shot to death at the immigration center in Binghamton were law-abiding, maybe even perfectly peaceful, people. I'm sure the children of Christopher Wood, the Middletown dad who apparently shot them before killing himself, respected the laws, as much as they even had an awareness of them.

Indeed, law-abiding people are profoundly affected by our gun-control laws - the lack of them.

I am not normally a pessimist. But when it comes to guns, I think we've lost our opportunity to reverse their proliferation.

It's not just the lack of elected leaders willing to take on the all-guns-at-all-costs crowd.

It's the reality of so many guns in our midst now - some 280 million in a nation of a bit more than 300 million people, enough of them with mental illness or anger problems or relationship issues to almost guarantee more of the easily executable violence we've seen again this spring.

We had our chances. We had an era of high-profile assassinations followed by a debate about handguns - how the easily concealable firearms do little more than facilitate the killing of human beings - and that went away, and millions of handguns went into circulation. We had a debate about assault weapons, and a ban on them for a while; that went away, and more of them went into circulation. Gun sales generally have been on the rise since last fall.

To try and roll all this back is to try and dam the ocean with a tennis racket.

It goes on and on.

Just as I write this Monday, the Cecil County sheriff's office reports that a woman in Elkton "out of the blue" shot and wounded the man she married less than three weeks ago, then fatally shot herself. In Pikesville, about 3 in the afternoon, someone shoots a maintenance worker at an apartment complex, in view of students from Old Court Middle School nearby.

We can keep arguing about this - that it's people, not guns, that cause all the violence. But guns make it easier for disturbed people to kill their spouses or children. Guns are behind most of the gang terror in America, and guns make the mass killings possible. There are some 280 million guns. We're a nation assured of more violence, and we're not even debating this anymore.

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