An open wound
Even as the pages of our country’s newspapers remain clogged with content about gun violence and the frequently raucous argument over what to do about it, the painful images and tender emotions evoked by the Newtown Conn., massacre gradually fade.
It is always so.
Already, the Aurora, Colo., movie-theater shooting seems like a distant memory (it took place only last July) and it is startling to discover that the fusillade of bullets that killed six and wounded 19 in Tucson – including the courageous Congresswoman Gabby Giffords – was fired just a year ago.
What has set the Sandy Hook school shooting apart – at least for now – is the youth and innocence of its student victims. That fact alone reminds us – especially those of us with small children – that the world will forever after be a darker and more dangerous place.
And maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it will force us to confront the roots of what some observers might call a cultural disorder, a collective pathology that has as a symptom, not necessarily a cause, our national obsession with guns.
We do not believe, as many thoughtful thinkers insist, that adopting the standard gun control agenda will make much of a difference in the level of gun violence in America. There is little evidence to suggest that the assault weapons ban – in effect from 1994 to 2004 – had any measurable influence in the number of shooting deaths, and the definition of “assault weapon” was, and remains, a highly arbitrary and largely cosmetic set of design features having little to do with the lethality of the weapons affected.
Far more logical is a renewed ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines, but only if it becomes illegal to possess those already in circulation. And for that to happen, the federal government would have to initiate a buy-back program like the one successfully initiated in Australia.
Even more logical is a rigorous registration, training and licensing program for all privately-owned firearms, coupled with an aggressive enforcement campaign. But that action is doomed to almost certain failure because the gun lobby won’t allow it and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has only 2,400 special agents to investigate violations of the law across a vast reach of regulatory terrain.
President Obama has exercised his executive power to partially correct an absurd inhibition placed on the Centers for Disease Control that have been under a 17-year funding cloud dissuading basic research into the public health effects of gun violence, thanks to the gun lobby.
Numerous other steps could be taken to incrementally reduce the risk of gun violence. They include universal background checks; elimination of immediate purchases at gun shows (in California gun show sales still require background checks, but who enforces that law?); putting people who are on the federal Terrorist Watchlist on a no-gun-buy list as well; regulate the sale of ammunition.
With 300-million firearms in private hands, gun confiscation is out of the question politically and practically. So, ultimately, what we’re left with is a kind of open wound, a cultural environment absorbed in and obsessed with gun violence, and a historical reluctance to look honestly at that culture and measure its consequences in every corner of our national life