By Andrew Tyrrell, Editor-in-Chief
On the night of Sunday, October 1, Stephen Paddock perpetrated the deadliest shooting in American history, killing 50 and injuring over 500 more. Sadly, I remember the last “deadliest shooting.” It happened last summer in Orlando,at Pulse Nightclub.
After Pulse, comedian Anthony Jeselnik tweeted out a joke: “Sure, this seems like the deadliest mass shooting in American history right now. But give it time.”
As tasteless it may have been, Jeselnik was right. Sadly, it didn’t take a whole lot of time for the record to be broken.
It is heartbreaking that mass shootings, many of which (see: Dylann Roof) can be characterized as acts of terrorism, have become the new norm in this country.
Every time a shooting of major significance happens (note that there has to be a distinction), there’s an article from The Onion that floats around, about how Americans are always shocked and outraged that these things happen even though we’re the only country in the world where this happens frequently. The satire is poignant, because really, we are the only place in the world that this shit happens.
In my lifetime we’ve gone from incidents like Columbine and the Virginia Tech shooting being completely abhorrent, to being so normal that when police were shot last weekend in Tennessee no one batted an eye.
It takes something truly horrendous like Sandy Hook, Pulse, Vegas, the murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward on live television, the shootings in Dallas during the BLM protests, etc., for us to care. And it’s getting harder and harder every single time.
It takes something more heinous each time for people to ask “how do we prevent this?” What’s equally alarming is that the answer hasn’t changed, and yet nothing is ever done about it.
So, let’s have a conversation about firearms and those who own them, and the NRA. The answer to the question of “how do we prevent this from happening again?” has always been and always will be sensible gun regulations at the state and federal levels.
Note that I use the word sensible. It’s an important bit of semantics, because liberals will immediately call for a total ban on all firearms, and this isn’t an attack on just liberals, because there are a lot of people to blame for a lot of reasons and not all of them have to do with your personal politics.
The liberal answer tends to be “take away everything,” which is impractical and logistically impossible; the conservative answer (especially from the NRA) is “arm everyone,” which is equally impractical, logistically impossible, and dangerous as all hell. As always, the answer to the problem, and it is a very nuanced one, is somewhere in the middle.
While guns are of course a major part of the problem, Congress is an even bigger problem. Democrats are generally on the right track with restrictions, but Republicans, who are heavily influenced by the NRA, don’t want restrictions at all. This isn’t to say that Democrats aren’t bought by lobbyists, because they are, it’s just not relevant here. Even after members of Congress got shot, they couldn’t agree on any sort of reasonable restrictions. Perhaps it’s because people like Nevada Senator Dean Heller vote against requiring background checks, safety courses, magazine bans, and the like because of those nice NRA donations. The debate also tends not to leave the realm of philosophy, which will forever be government regulation versus individual liberties. Sadly, neither of those matter because people are dying every day.
The Constitution guarantees that we can own firearms, and was affirmed as an individual right by the Supreme Court in 2008 in DC v Heller. The majority opinion, written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who is a giant in conservative circles, also affirmed that there can and should be reasonable restrictions on who can own firearms, what they can own, and where they can have them. Conservatives seem to miss that part of his majority opinion.
Unfortunately, even when Congress does try to do something, they focus on the wrong thing. In an article posted on Nate Silver’s The FiveThirtyEight today, they point to data that shows just how complex the gun issue is in America, but I’ll boil it down for you: mass shootings are not a good metric for understanding gun violence as a whole.
Most gun violence comes in the form of suicides. Sure, something that takes away all guns would reduce gun violence as a whole, but gun violence is not uniform. To echo the suggestion from The FiveThirtyEight, legislation needs to be pinpointed at individual portions of gun violence in order to actually solve the problem. A bill aimed at preventing mass shootings is unlikely to prevent the number of suicides by firearm.
So yes, Congress needs to step up and start doing something. And here’s the thing, here’s something that’s really important to keep in mind for my fellow liberals: gun owners aren’t bad people. By and large they’re very responsible with these weapons, and just as Muslims don’t deserve to be demonized as a whole because of terrorist acts committed by the few in the name of that religion, gun owners don’t deserve to be demonized for lawfully exercising a right that others abuse.
Which leads to this: gun owners need to step up, too. Sure, you don’t want it to be harder to exercise your rights, but at what point do you stop and recognize that, annually, roughly 33,000 people a year die in firearm related crimes or accidents? People need to stop morally indicting gun owners because they are gun owners, but gun owners also need to recognize that they do have as much of a moral responsibility as others to help prevent deaths that happen because of firearms.
We are at a point in the United States where this can no longer be a partisan issue that is brushed aside by Congress because their voters don’t want to “politicize” tragedy, or because “thoughts and prayers” have been offered.
There will never, ever be a better time to have the conversation about sensible gun regulations than after the deadliest shooting in American history. And as Congressman Seth Moulton pointed out when he declined to participate in the House’s moment of silence, the “thoughts and prayers” thing is used as a way to make it look like something is being done so that nothing can ever actually get done.
Thoughts and prayers are good, and that’s not sarcasm. It shows empathy towards people in a moment of tragedy or disaster that cannot and should not be understated.
But it also needs to be followed with tangible actions in the form of public policy. Pulse was the deadliest shooting in American history not that long ago, and we did nothing, nothing about it, and now here we are, talking about the deadliest shooting in American history, again.
If there were ever a time to have a real conversation about gun reform, it’s now. Right now. Otherwise we’ll be having this conversation again next year when the deadliest shooting in American history takes place.
Don’t let what happened in Vegas stay in Vegas.