I love this country with all my heart. Although we will continue to bear the stain of our “original sin” of slavery, I think at our core we are a nation that wants to build a fair and decent society. Most Americans believe in striving for greater racial justice. We strive for better schools for our youths, a cleaner environment, better opportunities for women and minorities. Our virtues draw immigrants and refugees to our shores from around the globe.
However, as of today, we have failed miserably on gun violence. Since 1999, at least 2,000 people have been killed or injured in mass shootings, according to data gathered by Mother Jones magazine. Four mass shootings have occurred this year alone – at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, an office complex in Orange County, CA, a supermarket in Boulder, CO, and in massage parlors in Atlanta. We have reached the sickening point where mass shootings are so common that just as soon as we grieve one, another occurs within a week.
Human life has become so cheap in the eyes of our society we have simply become numb to it. Mass casualty events dominate the news for a single cycle and then we will move on. The shooting at Boulder will be indistinguishable from Indianapolis which, in turn, will be indistinguishable from El Paso. America will avoid thinking of our sad, disgusting social disease until the next one – and then be forgotten soon after.
The prevalence of these mass killings has made me reexamine my own stance on guns. I was in the military for 26 years of combined active and reserve service and had to qualify on the .45 caliber, the 9mm, the M-16, and a pump shotgun. Today, I don’t own a gun, but admittedly, I do enjoy shooting, particularly shooting skeet and sporting clays.
As such, I have no issue with gun ownership, provided that there are reasonable restrictions and prerequisites. So just as not everyone should be offered the privilege of getting behind the wheel of a car, the same applies to guns.
Mass shootings represent the most prominent examples of America’s deep and intractable struggle with gun violence. However, these headline-grabbing events are but merely the most obvious component of a broader sickness: the ready availability of deadly firearms. Their widespread availability introduces the possibility of death or serious injury into even the most trivial disagreement, legal infraction, or altercation.
What practical result might be brought about by stricter gun laws? Let’s look at two extremely similar North American Cities: Seattle, Washington in the United States, and Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada. Both are roughly the same size, with a similar socioeconomic demographic, and are located less than 150 miles apart. In fact, they reside on the same body of water.
In 2020, 50 people were shot to death in Seattle. Gun sales in the city hit new highs in 2020 – once when the pandemic began and again in the summer when the protests for racial equity escalated
In Vancouver, the number was 19 – up from only 10 the previous year. One big reason there is a difference is that military-grade assault weapons are banned in Canada. In order to own any firearm, you need a license and must complete the Canada Firearms Safety Course.
Compared to the U.S., mass shootings are exceedingly rare as are the antics of gun-toting gun rights advocates and right-wing militia groups. Gun zealots such as Congresswomen Boebert (R- CO) and Greene (R-GA), would have no support in the Canadian Parliament nor would they be cheered as heroes in their home districts.
Another major difference in gun control is deeply cultural. Far too many Americans view the Second Amendment with a borderline religious fervor that blinds them from implementing any commonsense gun laws that would regulate firearms with the same caution as cars and alcohol.
That fact, however, does not mean that we can’t change that culture, but it will be a daunting undertaking. The gun lobby is large, powerful, and incredibly well funded. They have donated to many sitting politicians and push a ridiculous narrative that even the most rational gun legislation would inevitably lead down a slippery slope that would ultimately end in gun confiscation. No sane person should buy that argument.
Yes, the United States is not the only nation struggling with gun violence, but it is the only developed nation with such shocking numbers. In some parts of South America, Asia, and Africa, gun violence is associated with gang violence, insurgencies, competition among rival drug cartels, and violent street crime. Still, even in those nations, random mass shootings are rare. The United States is a global embarrassment and, like many Americans, I’m damn tired of being embarrassed.
The majority of Americans support reasonable restrictions on gun ownership. According to a USA Today-Ipsos poll conducted in March, 65% overall say gun laws should be stricter. However, only 35% of Republicans support stricter gun laws. That is why for the last four years of the Trump presidency they constantly sided with the gun lobby and dog-whistled to the racial grievances of the base.
Under the Biden administration, we finally have a chance to tackle this national embarrassment on a national level. In early April, the Biden administration signed six executive actions to tackle gun violence – from solidifying “red flag” laws to exploring community-based violence interventions. However, these policies only address gun violence on the margins.
We need more substantial intervention. Potential gun purchasers should have to undergo a uniform, national background check, and military-style assault weapons should be banned. We need to ditch high-capacity magazines, and the “gun show loophole” must be closed once and for all. Mandatory waiting periods should be imposed, and potential gun owners should be required to undergo mandatory gun safety training. These steps would be a good start to help curb the heart-breaking problem of senseless gun deaths.
Sadly, I fear that the state of gun control will only get worse. On Monday, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Corlett, a case that could jeopardize more than a decade of gun control measures implemented on the state and local level. With a 6-3 conservative majority on the bench, gun control advocates are fearing the worst.
As a former defense official in the Reagan and Bush 41 administration, I have had the great privilege to have traveled the world. In my lifetime, I have visited over 100 countries and six of the seven continents. However, I have lost track of the number of times that I have been in a foreign country and been asked about America’s strange fondness for guns and the appalling loss of life that is so often the byproduct. America has done much good around the world – from fighting disease, responding to disasters, and deposing evil regimes. Yet today, people around the globe feel sorry for us. I am sick of it.