Most people know that America has a gun problem. It’s just our politicians who don’t.
Bryan Oberc, Munster, Ind., tries out an AR-15 from Sig Sauer in the exhibition hall at the National Rifle Association Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Saturday, April 27, 2019.
Two weeks ago, on March 27, 2023, brought the news of yet another massacre at a school — this time in Nashville, Tennessee. The shooting was met once again by legislators’ wholly inadequate response of “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their families.
While the definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results — is familiar to many, most Republican legislators seem never to have heard of it.
News flash to all Republican legislators: We have a gun problem. The fact is the United States had well over 40,000 deaths caused by guns in 2022. It’s a shockingly high number on par with the number of traffic deaths. Perhaps even more appalling, in 2020, guns were the number 1 cause of death in children 1 to 19 years of age, having killed 4,357 children.
Generally, we need more restrictive gun legislation, but for the purposes of this article, let’s focus on banning assault weapons.
The idea promoted by gun advocates and parroted by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, that we can’t fix gun violence because we can’t “legislate against evil,” is nonsense. We are a global outlier in gun ownership and gun violence. In nations where gun ownership is severely restricted, school shootings are non-existent or exceedingly rare.
For example, from 2009 to 2018, the United States experienced 288 school shootings. Over the same period, Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom experienced two, two, one and zero school shootings respectively. The only relevant difference between us and them are the number of guns in private hands.
Over the past 25 years, countries such as New Zealand, Australia, England and Norway sensibly responded to mass shootings in their countries by enacting stricter gun laws and banning semi-automatic assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. For example, after a white supremacist shot dead 51 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announced sweeping gun control reforms which included banning assault weapons. Under the new law, gun owners had six months to sell their weapons back to the government.
In 1994 our Congress did, in fact, “legislate against evil” when it passed a federal assault weapons ban. Fatalities due to mass shootings were 70% less common during the ten years of the 1994 to 2004 ban compared to other years between 1981 and 2017. Another study showed that the 10-year ban likely prevented as many as 11 mass shootings, and had it remained in place, as many as 30 more mass shootings could have been prevented.
These studies merely corroborate what is common sense: Prevent access to military grade rapid-fire assault weapons which have large capacity magazines that can shoot a hundred rounds per minute, and you reduce mass shootings. Pretty simple, right?
American citizens get it, as about 70% of Americans support sensible gun control and a ban on assault weapons. It is our legislators in state houses and Congress who don’t, and who refuse to do anything about this problem.
We deserve political leaders who seek to ensure our peace and security against preventable threats. Unfortunately, Republicans — and it’s overwhelmingly Republicans — appear to care more about blood money from gun lobbyists than they care about the lives of schoolchildren. And that’s not just my opinion.
Experts say that, ultimately, the reason why the U.S. has been unable to match the progress made in other countries, is that “the gun lobby has put a stranglehold on some of our elected officials so that they are more beholden to gun manufacturers than to their constituents.” That sounds quite plausible considering that the National Rifle Association spends $3 million a year to influence gun policy.
Given this ugly reality, our only option is to voice our ire at these sad and revolting serial tragedies by sending an overwhelmingly loud message that no politician, even one whose political life is shielded by gerrymandered districts, can afford to be deaf to: Either dedicate yourself to banning assault weapons and more generally to fixing our gun problem, or find another job.
Politicians rely on the 24-hour news cycle and on the voting public’s short memory to do nothing to remedy this recurring national tragedy and embarrassment. This time we must not forget those innocent children. We must hold every Utah state representative, state senator, governor, United States congressman and United States senator accountable by requiring them to answer this question on the record:
“Will you vote for a ban on assault weapons? Yes or No?”
As a society, we can no longer accept our morally bankrupt status quo. It’s just a matter of time before another school or public massacre occurs, and next time, it might happen here in Utah. It’s too late this year to protest outside the Utah Capitol and demand change, as more than a thousand parents and students recently did outside the Tennessee Capitol. We simply must not ever again fund or vote for any politician who fails to support a ban on assault weapons.
Justin Thulin, M.D., Salt Lake City, is an independent voter and was once 4th grader.