We Need To Meet In The Middle On Gun Control

We Need To Meet In The Middle On Gun Control

In the wake of another mass shooting, a high school massacre in which 17 lives were taken by an AR-15-style assault weapon, David A. French argued in National Review that missed warning signs and lack of communal responsibility, not inadequate gun control, were responsible for that and other instances of mass shooting which have plagued the country since Columbine. The Broward County Sheriff controversially echoed that sentiment yesterday evening. And even though there is significant evidence that few, if any of recently proposed gun-control measures would have stopped major mass shootings in the past few years, the left continues to hammer away at the "the Second Amendment only allows a well-regulated Militia" angle, the "we regulate cars, why can't we regulate guns?" refrain, or more often than anything else: "we are the only country that has this many guns and has had these many mass shootings—get rid of the guns." 

Anyone on the Right, anyone who does not support more gun control, has heard those arguments time and time again, and while they can score points with the choir, they don't really get us anywhere. The Right, a la David French, will sigh and posit personal responsibility and "good guy with a gun," the Left will list NRA donation recipients, and a few months later, more people will be shot. We can all agree that the trend exists, but our situation is much more complex than just getting rid of guns, and when we spend time just repeating our arguments and refusing to compromise, more lives are lost. We've got to meet in the middle, find common ground, and make changes where we can. 

So where do we start? David French offers a good place, a 2015 essay by Malcolm Gladwell which addresses the shooting-epidemic in with paradigm we have adopted today: contagion.

What if the way to explain the school-shooting epidemic is . . . to think of it as a slow-motion, ever-evolving riot, in which each new participant’s action makes sense in reaction to and in combination with those who came before?

Gladwell is right; ever since Columbine, many mass shooters, especially school shooters, have made efforts to replicate the incomprehensible evil of their predecessors, attempting to set a new bar and hurt more people. According to research by Mother Jones, the Columbine shooting inspired “at least 74 plots or attacks across 30 states” and “in at least 14 cases, the Columbine copycats aimed to attack on the anniversary of the original massacre. Individuals in 13 cases indicated that their goal was to outdo the Columbine body count. In at least 10 cases, the suspects and attackers referred to the pair.” And with each new killing, with more to go on, the threshold is lower and the guidebook is more detailed than ever before.

This is one of the difficulties of mass shootings that even new gun-control legislation would struggle to address: they are often pre-meditated crimes, planned meticulously to inflict maximum damage. Shooters modify weapons illegally (see: bump stocks), obtain high-capacity magazines unavailable for sale, or engage in straw purchases or theft to obtain military-grade weapons never intended for their hands. Gun control laws can do nothing to stop illegal modification, and few proposed would institute a buy-back program to handle the massive quantity of military-grade assault weapons that Americans already legally own. And those background checks for which progressives consistently cite public opinion polling have failed in numerous instances due to administrative errors or illegal straw purchase. If we want change now, those "NRA-backed spineless Republicans," have a point: we need to develop a stricter culture of "see some something, say something" and authorities need to take reports of violence attitudes more seriously.

The Florida shooter, Nikolas Cruz, brought ammunition to school, made Youtube comments (which were reported to authorities) about wanting to become a "professional school shooter," and was banned from bringing a backpack on his high-school campus for fear of his violent tendencies. According to a former classmate of Cruz's, "All he would talk about is guns, knives, and hunting. I can’t say I was shocked. From past experiences, he seemed like the kind of kid who would do something like this." Too many times have we heard about things like this, obvious red flags, which should have been addressed long before the eventual massacre.

But we can also rely on common-sense gun reform that respects 2nd Amendment protections to stop shootings that will occur in the future, and eliminate brazen genuflection to the gun-lobby from the halls of the Capital. Long ago should Congress have established joint or select committees on gun violence, long ago should the ridiculous ban on federal study of gun violence been lifted, and we should never have let the assault weapons ban and other common-sense reforms of previous decades lapse in the past 15 years. The Florida shooter bought the gun himself, an AR-15-style assault weapon, three years before he could legally buy a Miller Lite. Even Antonin Scalia recognized that weapons like that are not necessarily protected by the Second Amendment. Numerous perpetrators of past mass shootings were flagged by the FBI or had a history of mental health issues before legally buying weapons, yet President Trump signed a bill early in his term which removed Obama-era protections preventing some mentally ill individuals from buying guns. Apoligists need to stop acting like improved background checks or stricter buying requirement won't help prevent shootings in the future: they absolutely will. 

And the Right has also got to get behind better enforcement of our existing laws. US Attorney Tod Jones told a Congressional Panel in 2013 that the Department of Justice only prosecuted 44 out of 48,321 (that's not a typo) straw purchase cases that year due to the "hard choices" demanded by a lack of funding. And when those cases are prosecuted successfully, they often result in lenient sentences consisting of probation or community service. That is a national disgrace.

The point I'm trying to make, and what I think we all need to agree on, is that some form of action needs to be taken now, even if it just means better-enforcing our existing laws, providing guidance to parents on how to recognize signs of violent tendencies, or allowing the CDC to study gun violence. It may not be as aggressive as some people like, but familiar demands and refrains by both sides are falling on deaf ears, and more people are dying because of it. Stop criticizing politicians for receiving a ton of money from the NRA, even if its a good point, because it doesn't get us anywhere. We need to meet in the middle now, assume good intentions in those we dissagree with, and try to save some lives. 

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