On Mass Shootings in America: thoughts & prayers are not enough

Today started like any other day in America.

As we fumbled for our morning coffee, and the remote to the TV, we turned it on to find out that overnight there was yet another mass shooting committed on our soil. The details of the massacre were gut-wrenching, but all-too-familiar. Another depraved human being decided that they were going to kill as many people as possible, for reasons most of us can little fathom. And it was committed with a bonafide weapon of war, designed not for sport, but to kill as many living things as possible.

For years now, many have come to accept these occurrences as facts of life in America, a sort of unfortunate side-effect of living in a free, democratic society. After gunmen upon gunmen pepper down their victims in town after town, it is the immediate families of the victims, and their communities, that almost solely bare the lingering anguish and unanswered questions after that last news truck drives out of town, on its way to cover the next arousal of the 24-hour news cycle.

This new morning in America seems like a continuation of the dark night before, featuring new, hideous, unimaginable nightmares that unfold seemingly morning after morning.

It is time to wake up.

After the Aurora, Colorado, and Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in 2012, and the subsequent reactions on both sides of the gun control argument after, it was sadly clear that little was going to change in our new hyperpartisan reality. At worse, things were going to get darker.

They have.

Legislators at the behest of the N.R.A., a lobbying group working for multimillion dollar gun manufacturers (not the Constitution, like you’ve heard), disgustingly refused to budge. This was a black and white issue, a holy tenant of American life that was not to be touched, even a little, they said. In fact, state after state relaxed gun laws in the years after Aurora and Newtown, allowing more citizens to carry more powerful weapons in more places, with as little mandated training as possible.

As someone who thinks owning a gun for protection or sport in America is a perfectly reasonable tenant of living in a free society, my support for that tenant becomes a little shakier as I look beyond the hunting rifle and single shotgun, down the list of semiautomatic instruments of carnage, like the popular AR-15 model, that are so easily available over the counter at a store just down the street in your neighborhood.

Make no mistake, the weapons used in most of these mass killings were designed for use in overseas battle, to wound and maim as many enemies as possible in a short amount of time. Now they are just ubiquitous items in the collections of American gun-owners, who bought them from companies that made millions falsely marketing them as sporting or hunting rifles, or even shamefully pushing their owners into purchase through fear of confiscation from an impending police state. They are also, without a doubt, the weapons of choice for unstable or bigoted individuals, hellbent on wiping out scores of people, just like the suspect in Orlando earlier this morning.

You may conclude this is just another case where the reality of technological advancement has simply left the laws of the land behind in the dust, as sort-of antiquated relics. But it really isn’t. In 2004, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, signed into law ten years earlier, expired, and efforts to renew it since haven’t been successful.

On behalf of the victims and their communities, it is well past time to renew (and strengthen) it, along with shoring up background check and gun show loopholes. These reforms are beyond reasonable. In fact, I guarantee you a large percentage of the populace just assumes they are already in place.

For the stop-trying-to-take-my-guns-away crowd, fine. These new laws, which would only target unimaginably powerful weapons, don’t have to be enacted retroactively. The blood is on the hands of the lobbyists and legislators, not necessarily the gunowner’s. For those who want to get their rocks off on these deadly devices, I don’t think it unreasonable to restrict these battle weapons to sporting clubs, where their use (for sport, as marketed) can be supervised responsibly. Sure, we all get thrills sitting on old tanks or touring bomber planes at our local military base’s open house, but we can’t and shouldn’t take the damn things home.

For the slippery-slope crowd, lines exist. The arsenal of weapons to wage war is deep. Like every vice in life, there are reasonable lines. That line has been moved and violated repeatedly over the past few years. And also as with many things in life, it’s time for a reset.

For the you-can’t-end-all-shootings crowd, yes. These laws, even combined with an enhanced focus on mental health, wouldn’t necessarily curtail every mass casualty shooting event. But isn’t it worth it to try and end some of these horrible events? One less family grieving over the unfathomable death of a loved one is enough. Period.

While we can’t wait for the blood to dry to talk about it, we must take pause and realize that any change wouldn’t happen overnight. Any good reform takes years to decades to fully realize its fruits. If these reasonable legislative moves were enacted, we shouldn’t expect all mass shootings to suddenly end, but there are things that can be done to help stem the flow, while respecting the wishes of our founding fathers.

The power of incremental change has been demonstrated again and again in this country. And this one seems like a worthwhile one.

Prayer and sentimental thoughts are not enough.


Author’s note: the opinions expressed above are mine, and don’t necessarily represent that of my employer, or perhaps many of you reading. In talking about issues related to the second amendment, let’s keep in mind the first amendment. Only love.