Opinion: Republicans Should Rejoice; We Are Now Numb To Gun Violence

Second Amendment

There is a stark, startling conclusion one can draw from the endless string of mass shootings we’ve seen in America: Murder is one of the prices we pay for the freedoms we say we want.

Or at least the freedoms some of us say we want.

I think it’s worse than that.

I don’t think we care. Or at least not anymore.

There was a time when such a thing shocked the nation. Who remembers the reaction to the Columbine shooting? Maybe it was a shock because it was a first — the first such incident in recent memory. Maybe we thought it was a one-off, so let freedom ring!

But the shootings continued. They happen with such frequency now that a national complacency has set in. We have become numb. Beyond the communities in which they happen, are we shocked anymore? Does the nation grieve? Is there any remaining description a president or elected official hasn’t uttered yet? At least a particular class of lawmakers have abandoned the old “thoughts and prayers” routine.

Either we don’t care, or we’ve given up. It doesn’t matter how many were killed, whether children were killed, or whether the motive was racism or anti-gay. Such incidents seem so commonplace now that we brush them aside as just another day in the United States.

The numbers don’t matter no matter how startling they are. In each of the last three years, there have been over 600 mass shootings in the U.S., according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research database. That is more than 12 mass shootings a week.

And yet, some say that’s the price we pay for freedom. Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk says we have to accept mass shootings to protect the Second Amendment.

“Don’t let shooting victims define the narrative,” he said on his podcast in reaction to the latest mass shooting in Louisville.

By “shooting victims,” I assume he means the ones who aren’t dead.

So many of us seem to shrug our shoulders. “It won’t happen to me,” we say. “It won’t happen here.” A gangland shooting? I’m not in a gang, not my world. Not my problem. Suicide, ya gotta be depressed or mentally ill. I’m not either, so not my problem.

But mass shootings? We may not know the people who died, but we know people just like them. A Lunar New Year shooting earlier this year happened in Monterey Park, California, a city listed as one of America’s best places to live and raise a family. Hey, I live in a place where it’s great to live and raise a family! Maybe it could happen here. Maybe it could happen to me.

Do these mass shooting incidents give you pause about attending certain events, or, when attending such events, are you mindful of what to do should such a terrifying moment arise?

Where I grew up, where violence was not uncommon, you learned at a young age to have an escape route, to know where the exits are, and to avoid certain kinds of locations lacking some form of egress. You prepare for the eventuality and think, what do I do if?

Do you do that? Have you done that? Are you more inclined to do that now? How long before you let your guard down? Been to the movies lately? Maybe a lot? Maybe you forgot about what happened in Colorado.

Or that grocery store in Buffalo?

How about a nightclub? Folks in Orlando thought that would be okay.

Or a music festival? You do recall what happened in Las Vegas.

Or maybe you’ve been to a political rally. Forget what happened in Tucson?

How about your house of worship?

Mr. Kirk says the Second Amendment protects all other freedoms. Apparently not.

A makeshift memorial outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman killed 19 children and two adults.
A makeshift memorial outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman killed 19 children and two adults.

Nick Wagner/Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

According to a national poll released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on healthcare research, the fear of gun violence is impacting where people go when outside the home: decisions to take public transit, dine out, attend a concert, and where they send their child to school. Eight in 10 participants said they took at least one precaution to protect themselves or a loved one from the possibility of gun violence.

The survey found that 1 in 5 has had a family member killed by a gun, 1 in 5 has been threatened with a gun, and nearly as many have personally witnessed a shooting. One in 5 parents has considered changing where their child attends school. Smaller percentages have shot a gun in self-defense or been injured in a shooting.

More than half (54%) have experienced or had a family member who experienced gun violence. Most of these incidents happened in the home, either through domestic violence, accidents or suicides. Either way, it has affected our behaviors outside the home.

The survey’s broader conclusion: We’re a nation living in fear.

I would say we are a nation living in apathy. Or maybe it’s resignation.

Opponents of stricter gun laws often oppose such regulations saying it doesn’t work. They point to California’s gun laws as proof given those three nearly back-to-back mass shootings earlier this year.

Those shootings offered “a lesson in the limits of state power to stop American gun violence, even with the political will at all levels of the state government to do so,” a New York Times piece reported. Its headline: “California Has More Than 100 Gun Laws. Why Don’t They Stop More Mass Shootings?”

What critics don’t point to, aren’t able to point to, is what didn’t happen because of those gun laws. It’s what Garen Wintemute calls the Paradox of Prevention.

Wintemute is a renowned expert on the public health crisis of gun violence and director of the University of California Violence Prevention Research Program.

“California gun laws are tough,” he told HuffPost. “But you only hear about the failures. They work more often than they fail because when they work, nothing happens.”

“Nobody tells the story of the thing that never happens.”

But it turns out California’s firearm violence and firearm homicide rates are far below the national average. The state’s suicide rate is among the nation’s lowest.

“As of 2020, the most recent data, the rate in the other 49 states taken together is 60% higher than the rate in California,” Wintemute said. “If the country had California’s firearm death rate in 2020, we would have saved nearly 16,000 lives.”

“In the roughly half a dozen states with firearm violence death rates lower than California’s, every single one of those states has a legal regulatory apparatus that is as strict as ours, or stricter,” he added.

“When people say gun laws don’t work, then how do you explain this?”

That same study found there were about 1,500 more gun deaths in Texas alone than there would have been if Texas had California’s firearm death rate.

“Did those 1,500 people have to die?” asked Wintemute. “That’s a question for Greg Abbot.” (Abbot is the current governor of Texas.)

People visit a memorial for those killed at Pulse nightclub on June 16, 2016, in Orlando, Florida, where 49 people were killed and 53 others were wounded.
People visit a memorial for those killed at Pulse nightclub on June 16, 2016, in Orlando, Florida, where 49 people were killed and 53 others were wounded.

Spencer Platt via Getty Images

The Paradox of Prevention may become the fate of the gun control bill signed into law last year, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. Media outlets celebrated its passage as the first major gun safety legislation passed by Congress in nearly 30 years. That’s nothing to celebrate when it took roughly a quarter-century of increasing rates of mass shootings to pass legislation that Joe Biden conceded. “Doesn’t do everything I want.”

It’s none of what gun advocates want.

“President Biden is pushing politically divisive measures that could seriously damage our right to keep and bear arms without making the nation any safer,” the Heritage Foundation proclaimed.

The National Rifle Association repeated its fallback panic position: “Biden wants to ban guns.”

Gun rights groups threatened legal action against the executive order designed to increase background checks that Biden signed last year.

It’s going to target legal gun owners!

Yet the Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that some of those legal gun owners aren’t exactly responsible gun owners. Among the 4 in 10 respondents who said there was a gun in their household, more than half said they stored at least one gun in the same location as the ammunition. Four in 10 stored their firearms in an unlocked location, and more than one-third said they have a loaded gun in the house.

Parents with children? Four in 10 with children under age 18 say there is a gun in their household. Among that group, one-third say the stored gun is loaded or stored in an unlocked location. More than 6 in 10 said they stored any gun in the same location as ammunition.

Some take comfort in a concealed carry permit. I don’t oppose them, but I’m skeptical. Anyone can go to the shooting range and learn to hit a stationary target. But firing a weapon under duress, when someone is firing in all directions, or firing at you… Try firing your weapon then.

Being a good guy with a gun doesn’t necessarily mean a guy who is good with a gun.

Another question is what to do if you encounter something that raises a red flag.

“We did a large-scale statewide survey in California,” said Wintemute. “At any moment in time, one adult in eight — 12% of us — is aware of at least one person, someone they know personally, who they believe is at risk of harming themselves or somebody else.”

“We have to be willing to make the call [notify the authorities]. Otherwise, we may have to be living with the consequences of not doing so,” he said.

That has a disturbing feel to it. How many people would feel comfortable ratting out someone we know personally? Yet recently passed laws in some states allow you to sue anyone who assisted another in getting an abortion.

Well, it’s about saving the life of the unborn child.

How about saving the lives of who knows how many when the next mass shooting comes along?

Speaking of which, the leading cause of death among children is now firearm violence.

Gun safety advocates participate in the March for Our Lives rally in downtown Orlando on June 11, 2022. Similar marches have been held across the U.S. in the wake of recent mass shootings.
Gun safety advocates participate in the March for Our Lives rally in downtown Orlando on June 11, 2022. Similar marches have been held across the U.S. in the wake of recent mass shootings.

Paul Hennessy/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Most mass shootings have familiar telltale benchmarks. An angry person. A person with no recourse. Targets. Guns. Victims. Often, instead of suicide notes or rambling screeds in a diary, digital breadcrumbs tempt us into thinking we could have prevented such a tragedy had we only known about this tweet, that Facebook page, or TikTok video.

But such clues are only realized in hindsight. Maria Martinez and her daughter told Denver’s KDVR of their disturbing encounter with the accused Club Q shooter Anderson Lee Aldrich, who they recorded spewing racial slurs and death threats while getting off a plane.

“Even my friend was like, we won’t be surprised, like, if he’s a mass shooter,” Martinez said. The Club Q shooting happened four months later.

George Sodini, who killed three people and wounded nine others in 2009, kept a blog online detailing his plans to commit a mass shooting at a specific health club in Pittsburgh. He indicated that he was profoundly unhappy. He felt women did not like him. He claimed not to have been in a relationship for 25 years, and he resented that. His blog even contained such astonishing things as his date of death, which he listed as Aug. 04, 2009, the day of the shooting. It was a date he entered long before it had arrived.

Classmates of the Uvalde school shooter suspected something was off. A year before the tragedy, he had threatened women, shared graphic descriptions of violence and rape, carrying around a dead cat, and been nicknamed “school shooter,” which had been something of an inside joke among his peers.

But he had no record, so he went undetected by law enforcement. And no one said anything to anyone.

It was a minor miracle more people weren’t killed when Stephen Paddock opened fire from the 32nd floor of his hotel room into an estimated crowd of 22,000 people. Fifty-eight dead, nearly 900 wounded. But Paddock left no clues, no grandiose manifesto. His brother described him as just another guy, and apparently, a wealthy one: A retired multimillionaire real estate investor. Investigators found no “single or clear motivating factor” to explain why he carried out the attack.

But even if he had left a trail of breadcrumbs, if you happened to encounter someone whose behavior was alarming or chilling, or if you stumbled upon a menacing social media post, would that have compelled you to call the police? Most of us would’ve dismissed the matter, thinking, “Oh, another kook.”

The more you talk about this, the more you come to realize that you have to accept one of two conclusions: Either murder is the price we pay for living in a society with the freedoms we (or enough of us) say we want, or, we’ve given up any hope in our lifetimes of ever resolving the problem of gun violence in America.

And that raises a larger question: How comfortable are you with the fact that perfection eludes us in the temporal realm and that we can’t prevent shootings like the one in Louisville, Nashville, or wherever the next one takes place?

And who would be astonished if, as soon as you read these words, somewhere another mass shooting may strike?

What freedoms do we give up in exchange for those demanded by others? People have a right to be wrong in their choices. They don’t have a right to be wronged by the choices of others.

Reflexively, we talk about gun laws or someone’s mental stability. Polling data shows that Americans support stricter gun regulations and a ban on assault-style weapons. Yet we continually elect and reelect people who oppose such bans.

I used to think that one day enough would be enough. That one day, a shooting so grievous, so horrific, would impel us to finally take action.

But after events like Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Virginia Tech, Uvalde, and so many others, I don’t know what it will take.

Until we confront this issue willingly, honestly and accordingly, we will have to live with the discomfiting reality that mass shootings are the unfortunate outgrowth of our free society. We do not seem capable of perfecting a system that can prevent them, nor do we have enough societal will to try.

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