All the local and state issues we normally tend to focus on, along with the national and global issues that present themselves from time to time, go on hold for a week when a tragedy on the scale of what happened last weekend in Orlando, Fla., occurs, More than a moment of reflection is called for in this multi-level horror show.
First, of course, are the victims. Our first thoughts go to them, their families and also the survivors, who will no doubt carry the scars of this experience for the rest of their lives. The same could be said for the police and law enforcement first responders, and the doctors at the Orlando hospital where the dozens of wounded were treated. Such carnage is not easily forgotten or moved on from.
Whatever motivated this gunman, this time — whether it was hatred of the gay community or some other repressed psychological condition — or another case of radical Islamic jihadist sickness — we will presumably learn more about in the coming days and weeks. The main point to make about that here and now is that the actions of one or even a handful of misguided Muslim terrorists cannot be allowed to taint all American Muslims, or even Muslims as a global community. The vast majority of them are law-abiding, ordinary citizens with the same values as anyone else. Sadly, if predictably, the odious presumptive nominee of the Republican Party wasted little time in once again conflating fear-mongering with factually inaccurate nonsense in an attempt to buttress an earlier argument that immigrants of Islamic ancestry or religious belief should not be allowed legal entry to the U.
Beyond the immediate concern for the victims, the main point today is why do these mass shootings keep happening here in the U.S., and how do we stop them.
After the horror of seeing little schoolchildren gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it would have seemed clear to most people that the existing rules around background checks and accessibility to weapons of extreme lethality were ripe for a far-reaching overhaul. Of course, you might have thought the same thing after the tragedy at Columbine in 1999, or the shooter in the movie theater in Aurora, Colo. in 2012, the Charleston, S.C. church almost exactly one year ago, or Virginia Tech in 2007, Fort Hood in 2009 or San Bernardino, Calif. last year. And that ignores the fact that the U.S. has one of the highest mortality rates from gun violence in the world separate from these mass shooting incidents that are seeming to occur with increasing regularity. Consider this data, compiled by NBC News:
•Every year in the U.S., an average of more than 100,000 people are shot, according to The Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence.
•Every day in the U.S., an average of 289 people are shot. Eighty-six of them die: 30 are murdered, 53 kill themselves, two die accidentally, and one is shot in a police intervention, the Brady Campaign reports.
•Between 2000 and 2010, a total of 335,609 people died from guns -- more than the population of St. Louis, Mo. (318,069), Pittsburgh (307,484), Cincinnati, Ohio (296,223), Newark, N.J. (277,540), and Orlando, Fla. (243,195) (sources: CDF, U.S. Census; CDC)
•One person is killed by a firearm every 17 minutes, 87 people are killed during an average day, and 609 are killed every week. (source: CDC)
Homicides by weapon:
•Handguns comprised 72.5 percent of the firearms used in murder and non-negligent manslaughter incidents in 2011; 4.1 percent were with shotguns; 3.8 percent were with rifles; 18.5 percent were with unspecified firearms.
•13.3 percent of homicides were done with knives or other cutting instruments.
•5.8 percent of homicides were from the use of hands, fists, feet, etc. (source: FBI).
People will have arguments. Others will have mental issues. Some may see shooting a group of people as the way to make a political statement. But if it's hard to get your hands on rapid-firing guns, and you have to use a knife or a baseball bat instead, it's a lot harder to kill dozens of people in a short period of time. Instead, as these incidents continue, we become numb. To really feel what is going on, and the frustration of our apparent unwillingness to do anything meaningful about it, is overwhelming. That's of course, unless you're one of the friends or family members of one of the people killed or wounded in one of the senseless episodes of violence where guns are involved, whether it's a drive-by shooting in Chicago or a slaughter of the innocents in an elementary school. Or a gay nightclub. Or any place where people converge to have fun, laugh and live. Then you might get mad, after the sorrow and grief.
Many commentators and editorial writers have already penned several thoughtful essays on our nation's complex and unusual — for advanced industrial nations — relationship with firearms. But our purpose here is not to rant about gun control, background checks and banning military-style assault weapons, or the Second amendment and what it really means. Granted, that's tempting, and it wouldn't be hard. How many times must it be said to the misguided leaders and followers of the National Rifle Association that nobody wants to restrict anyone from owning a shotgun or other legitimate hunting rifle, but owning one of the guns like the AR-15 used in the Orlando massacre probably isn't necessary for the pleasures of the hunt? Or self defense? Here's a fascinating tidbit — one of the favorite arguments of pro-gun advocates is that if law-abiding citizens don't have guns, they'll be at the mercy of the "bad guys." The nightclub in Orlando had an off-duty cop on hand to protect its patrons — and he couldn't stop the shooter. Do you seriously think one of the patrons, armed with a semi-automatic pistol but relatively untrained and unskilled in its use, could have picked off the Orlando shooter in the semi-darkness? Of course not.
After Sandy Hook in December, 2012, we beseechingly made the argument it was time to ban the sale of guns like AR-15s, which, while useful for some legitimate applications like chasing away predatory animals from livestock, are too easily used, as we've repeatedly seen, to murder innocent people wholesale, and urged political leaders to enact better background checks (like, if you are on the federal no-fly list, you can't buy a gun over the counter, period). Another course is to ban the sale of the magazines and bullets that are used in these guns, or require a strict and tight licensing process. And that of course went nowhere. More mass shootings, more handwringing, and more tortured rationalizations later, nothing has changed.
Instead, we want to hear from YOU. We especially want to hear from and understand why those of you who are worried about new restrictions on gun ownership are in such fear of these proposed restrictions, deemed commonsense elsewhere and by the way, very effective at limiting mass shootings in other countries. This is your turn. Make the case. Your columns or letters will be printed here on this page, in the weeks to come, prominently. And online too, of course. Good taste and no personal attacks are all we ask.
Submissions on all sides of this issue are welcome, but since it is so hard to understand why gun laws should not be drastically different than what they currently are, both on the federal and state levels, we hope to hear from advocates on that side of the question the most. It's not like the toys are being taken away for good. This is not the camel's nose poking into the tent. Deer and turkey hunters, or recreational users of non-military firearms should have nothing to fear.
There may be no perfect solution, but there has to be a better way than what we are doing now. It isn't working. We have to make it harder for the bad guys or the mentally disturbed to acquire weapons of deadly force. It can be done. It has to be done.