The nation was saddened yet again on Sept. 16 by another mass shooting, this time at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., claiming the lives of 13 people including one of the suspects. The Navy Yard is only a couple of miles from Capitol Hill.
George Zornick, of The Nation, called the scenario “the latest iteration of a now-familiar US news event,” which is a very sad commentary of our time. It’s hard to think that when he said “a now-familiar US news event,” he meant anything other than this has become frighteningly familiar, which is something that should never have been allowed to happen. His piece focuses on the U.S.’s growing gun problem, and how the NRA and their ilk, both in and out of Congress, fight against even reasonable measures in the face of these awful tragedies.
For instance, following the Sandy Hook tragedy, Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX), Governor of Virginia Bob McDonald, Governor of Texas Rick Perry, and others, issued statements to the effect that, had the teachers been armed, lives could have been saved that day. NRA President Wayne LaPierre also said something to that effect, and blamed violent video games for the escalating mass shootings here.
The NRA also proposed having armed guards at every school, which is something that may or may not be effective. Gunmen have mowed down trained police officers before, and one lone gunman was able to catch two armed guards at Red Lake High School unawares. Columbine High School also had an armed guard with 15 years service in the Jefferson County sheriff’s department, who was unable to stop the shooters.
Known gun zealot Ted Nugent weighed in on the Aurora movie theater shooting, predictably suggesting that if moviegoers had been armed, lives would have been saved, despite strong evidence and even demonstration that the ability to accurately pull a concealed weapon, aim it, and fire it without also getting hit and without hitting innocents isn’t something that can be done remotely well without extensive and ongoing training. To say nothing of the fact that James Holmes was wearing quite a bit of body armor.
After Sandy Hook, Ann Coulter also weighed in on school shootings, saying that the way to stop them is more laws that allow concealed carry. She cited a study done by economists William Landes of the University of Chicago, and John Lott, of Yale University, who looked at mass shootings from 1977 to 1995, and says they found no evidence that waiting period, stronger background checks, and other things touted by Democrats as “reasonable gun control measures” had any effect. However, apparently, they found that concealed carry laws do. This reason is two-fold: One, the criminals won’t know who’s packing and who isn’t, and will therefore be less likely to actually commit their crime. And two, people will be armed and able to take down a shooter before he fires off more than a couple of rounds.
The right-wing media is already pushing an agenda for even weaker gun laws, chanting the familiar, and frankly maddening, refrain that more guns there could and would have stopped this. According to MediaMatters, Fox News’ Martha MacCallum said that people aren’t allowed to carry weapons on a military base and that the shooters targeted the area because of that. That statement ignores research that only 23% of mass shootings occur at gun-free zones, according to author Matt Gertz.
It’s time to ask, is the topic really guns? Is ease of availability the problem? Or is it the fact that we have restrictions on carry, along with gun-free zones? It turns out the debate isn’t focused on the real issue. The real issue is violence, not guns. Guns simply make violence bloodier and easier to carry out.
In this country, people tend to want easy, one- or two-step solutions to issues, and if a piece of legislation doesn’t fix the entire problem in one fell swoop with easily tracked results that are, or will be, 100% positive, the opposition either fights it tooth and nail, or they vow to see it repealed (think the Affordable Care Act).
Unfortunately, there is no simple and easy solution here. The federal government can’t do it alone, and neither can state and local governments; they must partner with each other to address it. The Prevention Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public about violence (and other issues), advocates approaching the issue from a public health perspective. One thing they support is the CDC’s restored funding to conduct research into violence, something the NRA opposes because they fear the studies will scare people into supporting stronger gun laws.
Learning and education are also important part of addressing the issue, as is access to mental health care, for adults and for children. Access to quality mental health care shouldn’t just be for those who have an obvious illness, chronic or otherwise, but also for those who’ve experienced mental or emotional trauma, including everything from witnessing a crime to being a victim of a crime or abuse, to losing a job, experiencing a death in the family, a divorce, and more.
And there’s much, much more besides. It seems, though, that everybody focuses on the guns without seeing the deeper problem. Perhaps they’d rather do that than attempt to understand where we’ve failed, yes, failed, people as a society and try to fix that heavily complex issue instead. The truth is, what we really need to start focusing on is violence as a matter of public health and education, and what can be done to treat it. Only then are we likely to see a real reduction in mass killings that occur with alarming and tragic regularity here.