The Debate That Goes Nowhere5 October 2017 | 13:42 | The New York Times
It’s time to talk about taking away guns – not everyone’s guns and not all of them, but a whole lot. I know I am inviting enormous vitriol with that sentence, but it has to be said.
Every time the nation suffers an act of terrorism on our soil like the one on Sunday in Las Vegas, we have the same fruitless debate in which opponents of sensible gun regulation hide behind the Second Amendment and supporters of gun control dance around it.
In the aftermath of murder sprees, politicians, columnists and other prominent people suggest perfectly sensible reforms in hopes of reducing the lethality of these horrors or the ease with which they are mounted.
On Monday, Hillary Clinton talked about the lunacy of allowing easy access to silencers. She wondered if the bloodletting might have been even worse if the killer had dampened the sound of his shots.
Following the usual pattern, opponents of gun control attacked her for her “ignorance” about the technology of firearms and what silencers really do or don’t do.
Following another well-worn trail, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, said it was just not the right time to talk about gun laws. (In the same way, I suppose, that football games are not the right time to talk about institutionalized racism.)
The rest of the pattern involves the National Rifle Association – or rather its minions, because the gun lobby usually goes silent for a little while after a mass murder – warning that “they” want to take “your” guns.
People on the other side – the one I am on – wave their hands and say: “No, no, no. We just want to limit their power or the ease of purchase.”
When The Times ran a front-page editorial on guns after the San Bernardino massacre in 2015, we suggested that Americans need to think about giving up the right to own firearms designed only to kill people.
We were assailed by the gun-rights crowd, of course, which said we wanted to disarm all law-abiding Americans. One right-wing columnist actually shot up a paper copy of the editorial and posted the results online.
But we also got complaints from advocates for gun control, who said that wasn’t their particular agenda, or that it was too aggressive, or that it wasn’t the right time.
It was past time then, and still is. There are almost as many firearms in private hands in America as there are people in the country – more than 300 million.
Stopping the reckless spread of firearms is important, but the culture of gunplay is just far too deeply embedded in our society. And I’m not just talking about open-carry or concealed-carry laws, or “stand your ground” laws.
News accounts of the Las Vegas nightmare are using various locutions to describe the scope of the murders. The Times calls it one of the deadliest in history. The Washington Post calls it the deadliest in modern times.
Why? Because the Las Vegas slaughter does not even come close to being the deadliest. In the 19th and early 20th century, white Americans conducted mass murders of Native Americans regularly – sometimes hundreds at a time. They did this in the uniform of the U.S. Army, and in civilian clothes, but either way it was genocidal terror.
Times writers are also being admonished not to call the guns used by the Las Vegas killer “automatic weapons” because technically they appear to have been semiautomatic weapons modified for rapid, continuous fire.
One argument is that it somehow undermines the credibility of gun-control advocates to get the lingo wrong. Let’s be clear: We don’t have credibility with the other side of the argument, regardless of the precision of our words, and the linguistic niceties blur the main issue.
The Second Amendment gives individuals a right to own firearms, the Supreme Court has decided, but not carte blanche to own any number or kind of firearm, regardless of its purpose, design or lethality.
There is no good reason for a civilian to own rifles like the ones used by the Las Vegas killer and even less to own many of them. We need to steadily remove from private hands those kinds of guns, and ammunition designed to kill and maim more effectively or to pierce armor. Then we need to find more ways to reduce the number of weapons we own.
President Trump said today that “we will be talking about gun laws as time goes by.”
I doubt it, especially that Trump will make it happen, and I fear that in any event we won’t grapple with the real problem.
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