It’s the guns – commentary
Members of the community gather at a City of Uvalde Town Square for a prayer vigil in the wake of a mass shooting at a local elementary school which left 21 dead, including 19 children, on May 24 in Uvalde, Texas. (Jordan Vonderhaar | Getty Images)
Of course it’s the guns.
At this point, no honest person with functioning eyes or ears can even make a respectable argument that the primary factor in the United States’ horrific gun violence problem is anything other than guns. Look at all – and I mean all –of our peer countries. As so many people have pointed out since news of the Uvalde shooting broke on Tuesday, all countries include people with mental health problems, people who play violent video games, and every other issue on which pro-gun Republicans (and the occasional Democrat) like to foist responsibility for the constant parade of mass shootings. But there is only one country where people die by firearm, singly and en masse, over and over and over again, and little action is taken to stop it. As we all know, that country is our own.
I’ve been at this a long time, so I hope you’ll forgive me a little cynicism and more than a little weariness. I worked on this issue most recently for three years in this state. I’ve heard every argument the pro-gun lobby makes against every gun violence prevention measure gun safety advocates propose, and I can tell you that almost every one of them is disingenuous, while those that are sincere in most cases simply don’t stand up to scrutiny – especially when measured against an annual body count of more than 45,000 firearms deaths per year. This rings especially true at a time when firearms have overtaken auto accidents as the leading cause of death for children and adolescents in America.
Here’s the thing about reducing gun violence: We know how to do it. Below is a non-comprehensive list of measures we could take to greatly decrease the death toll:
- Universal background checks;
- A waiting period of a few days between purchase and delivery of a firearm;
- A ban on assault-style weapons, which have no legitimate place in civilian hands;
- Buyback programs to provide incentives for people to turn in voluntarily their presently owned assault-style weapons (because legislative bans almost always apply only to the future);
- A ban on high-capacity magazines, which have no legitimate civilian use;
- A ban on guns in schools;
- Extreme Risk Protection Orders (providing for removal of guns in situations of extreme, dangerous risk);
- A ban on ghost guns;
- Safe-storage requirements (primarily to prevent accidental or intentional access by young children); and
- Bans on various enhancements that facilitate turning “legal” firearms functionally into prohibited weapons.
Would these measures completely eliminate gun deaths in this country? No, they wouldn’t. But they would reduce the carnage significantly. We just have to decide we’re committed to ending the slaughter.
These gun safety provisions could be enacted consistent with the Second Amendment. The freedom guaranteed by that amendment, like the freedoms guaranteed via other parts of the Constitution, is not absolute. The First Amendment freedom of speech, for example, famously does not extend to screaming “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Similarly, the Second Amendment does not state or imply the freedom to bear any kind of firearm, anywhere you want, anytime you want, without consideration for the consequences on the lives of your fellow Americans. And when Second Amendment freedoms constantly and consistently impinge on the freedoms of other Americans, as they do now, limits are appropriate. The rest of America has the right not to be shot, and to come home alive at the end of the day.
In New Hampshire, we have tried. I worked for three years with others to advocate for moderate gun violence prevention measures: closing background-check loopholes, establishing a short waiting period between purchase and delivery of a firearm, prohibiting guns in schools, and establishing extreme risk protection orders. Again, these are all moderate measures.
With much work by advocates and legislators, all four of these measures passed. And Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed every single one of them.
So to all elected representatives, I ask a question similar to that posed by an emotional Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut on Tuesday when he took to the floor of the U.S. Senate shortly after the Uvalde mass shooting that stole the lives of 19 children and two teachers. Sen. Murphy, you may remember, was the congressman for Sandy Hook Elementary School at the time of that massacre, after which many of us thought lawmakers might actually be moved to do something – and we were sadly disappointed. On Tuesday, Sen. Murphy literally begged his colleagues to take action, and asked them, “Why are you even in the Senate?” He asked them why they were so interested in holding on to the power of their offices if not, at a very minimum, to save their constituents’ lives.
It’s a question every lawmaker at every level of government should ask themselves. And if they’re only interested in power for power’s sake, then it’s time for them to get out of the way for someone who actually cares about human life.
This gun violence is a choice our governments are making. It’s a choice we all are making; the blood is on all of our hands as a citizenry. We have to wash our hands of the elected officials who refuse to protect our children and families, our friends and neighbors, and vote for representatives who will act to save our fellow Americans’ lives. Nationally, this means retaining every Democrat in the U.S. Senate – including Maggie Hassan – and adding at least two more so that there are enough votes to get rid of the filibuster and finally pass gun violence prevention measures. In New Hampshire, it means voting for enough supporters of these measures to pass similar legislation and voting for a governor who won’t kill those measures when they reach his desk.
Enough murders. Enough dead children. Enough military-style gun culture. Either we decide to do something about our collective addiction to gun violence, or we are complicit in continued American deaths. There are no other choices.
The future is in every American’s hands, including yours. Will you vote for our children’s lives, or will you vote for guns? Whose side are you on?
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