That doesn’t justify turning our heads and looking the other way. The United States has had mass private gun ownership for its entire history. It has not regularly experienced the degree of mass, random shootings that we see today. There were only eight incidents with three or more fatalities between 1982 and 1989, an average of only one per year. We averaged 10 per year from 2017 to 2019. Events in which four people were shot more than doubled in just the past three years.
This is not merely a price of freedom. It is a growing epidemic that threatens to undermine the trust and security that make a free society possible.
There’s no sign that this violence will abate of its own accord. Rather, it seems that each event raises the bar, encouraging more sick people to choose to kill others. They can turn on friends, classmates, work associates or members of a group they hate. The victims could be any of us, and that’s what makes this grisly spectacle even more dangerous.
Claims that even more widespread public carrying of guns will solve the problem are simply laughable. The Buffalo shooter was decked out in body armor and tactical weapons gear. Random citizens packing heat would not bring down someone so well prepared. And no number of handguns in the crowd would have stopped the Las Vegas shooter, who coldly executed 58 people and wounded more than 400 others with a rifle from his hotel window.
Economist Herb Stein coined a law that bears his name: If something cannot go on forever, it will stop. That’s as true in this case as it is in economics. Eventually, Americans will refuse to tolerate mass murder as a regular occurrence. Left to fester long enough, such violence will likely force people to reconsider support for the Second Amendment itself and acquiesce in its judicial evisceration. That is even likelier to happen if those who champion the private use of guns cannot bring themselves to condemn and limit their deadly abuse.
I’m not an expert and don’t know exactly what would solve or significantly reduce the problem. But it seems that some of these shooters, including the alleged gunman in the Buffalo shooting, have made violent threats or displayed mental health issues that attracted the attention of authorities before their rampages. Can lawmakers coalesce around proposals to strengthen laws meant to prevent these people from purchasing or possessing a firearm? The Air Force was recently ordered to pay $230 million to the families of the victims of a 2017 mass shooting in Texas for failing to flag a prior conviction that could have the barred the shooter from buying the weapon used in the assault. Perhaps individuals who recklessly fail to report such convictions could be made personally liable, either criminally or civilly?
There’s also substantial agreement between gun owners and non-gun owners on questions such as applying background checks to sales at private gun shows. With some leadership, one might be able to find other areas of wide agreement that can result in some progress.
These and other ideas are not magic wands that can wipe away the stain of mass shootings. Still, they might help, and Second Amendment advocates have specific knowledge about gun owners and their beliefs that are essential to the passage of any significant legislation.
We solved epidemics of mass violence before. The confluence of alcohol prohibition and gang violence led to an epidemic of violence in the 1920s and early 1930s. The federal government heavily taxed fully automatic firearms and other weapons in 1934 in response as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal on Crime.” In the late 1960s, lone gunmen hijacked planes with increasing regularity; the creation of airport security put that to a halt. There’s no logical reason we can’t come together and do this again.
There’s a saying in Washington: You’re either at the table or you’re on the menu. The longer gun ownership advocates stay away from the table, the likelier core freedoms will be devoured.