The morning after the gun blazed in Virginia that required another series of headlines to race across the world about how this nation is in need of some sanity when it comes to gun control I can report at least there is a new discussion under way about fixing the problem. I am not under any illusion that anything of substance will occur. If we could not find our moral way forward after the slaughter in Sandy Hook with all those young children shot to hell and laying in pieces on the classroom floor I am not sure what needs to happen to snap the three-thumb crowd into action. But at least this morning we are talking. That is how sad and pathetic this country is when the most we can muster are words over guns.
The dramatic shootings that make the news remind us that guns are not noble instruments of freedom; they are highly dangerous machines that have some legitimate uses and many illegitimate ones. Any rational government would carefully regulate them. Instead, our leaders have declined to fix obvious loopholes in background-check systems, refused to ban wholly unnecessary high-capacity magazines, thwarted efforts to study the effects of having a society saturated with firearms and generally cowered before the lobbying might of a political fringe.
More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides every six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
■ More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history.
■ American children are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other developed countries, according to David Hemenway, a Harvard professor and author of an excellent book on firearm safety.
The lesson from the ongoing carnage is not that we need a modern prohibition (that would raise constitutional issues and be impossible politically), but that we should address gun deaths as a public health crisis. To protect the public, we regulate toys and mutual funds, ladders and swimming pools. Shouldn’t we regulate guns as seriously as we regulate toys?
We need universal background checks with more rigorous screening, limits on gun purchases to one a month to reduce trafficking, safe storage requirements, serial number markings that are more difficult to obliterate, waiting periods to buy a handgun — and more research on what steps would actually save lives. If the federal government won’t act, states should lead.
Australia is a model. In 1996, after a mass shooting there, the country united behind tougher firearm restrictions. The Journal of Public Health Policy notes that the firearm suicide rate dropped by half in Australia over the next seven years, and the firearm homicide rate was almost halved.
Here in America, we can similarly move from passive horror to take steps to reduce the 92 lives claimed by gun violence in the United States daily. Surely we can regulate guns as seriously as we do cars, ladders and swimming pools.
Many politicians will focus on the gunman’s troubled personality and try to cast this shooting as a summons for better mental health care, certainly not gun control. Yet that ignores a grim reality: the estimated 300 million guns in America owned by a third of the population, far more per capita than any other modern nation. Guns are ubiquitous and easy to acquire, as statehouse politicians, particularly Republicans, genuflect to the gun lobby to weaken, not tighten, gun safety.
We all know no change is likely, for all the social media grotesquerie. The woeful truth underlying this latest shooting is more mundane than alarming. There are too many guns, and too little national will to do anything about them.