The gun violence debate in our society needs to be rebooted in the wake of another mass shooting, this time in Oak Creek.
For too long the National Rifle Association, through its influence and lobbying resources, has insisted the gun debate be framed in terms of two ideas: safety and freedom.
We would be safe, the argument goes, if everybody were allowed to carry weapons everywhere. That way, if a crazed gunman opened fire in public, the armed public could take him out and thus save lives.
Possibly. But I find it hard to believe that people would invest thousands of dollars in weapons and ammunition simply to carry them around on the off chance that somebody sometime will start shooting and they can save the day. Can we be honest about the main reason people want guns?
The other argument that the NRA continually asserts is the slippery-slope argument that any restriction on gun manufacture or sales is an unconscionable abridgment of our constitutional freedom.
How does restricting our ability to buy an assault rifle capable of firing 50 to 60 rounds per minute threaten our freedom to hunt, collect or target shoot?
I submit that it is time we framed the gun debate in terms of firepower. The suspect in the Aurora, Colo., shootings bought over 6,000 rounds of ammunition. Why is there no red flag, no background check, on such a purchase?
The tired bumper-sticker argument that “when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” doesn’t hold water. We regulate or outlaw all manner of dangerous things in our society. By that logic, we should not impose speed limits because people still speed or outlaw murder because people still kill. Do we really believe that?
Amid all the rhetoric about “outlaws,” we rarely discuss the number of gun deaths in this country from legal firearms. The suspect in the Aurora shootings bought his guns legally. So did the Virginia Tech shooter. So did Lee Harvey Oswald and Charles Whitman. And on and on.
In 1994, Congress banned assault weapons and large-capacity machine guns but allowed that ban to lapse in 2004. Whose interests were being served by that?
The other necessary prong to this debate is the psychology and motivation of the shooters themselves. Who are the perpetrators of such horrors? Though all mass murderers do not fit the same profile (and we have yet to learn the motives of the shooter at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on Sunday), we often hear them described as “loners,” “misfits” or bruised people who in one way or another feel like outcasts. The Columbine and Virginia Tech killers gave warning signs.
We know a great deal about childhood trauma and early intervention, but for various reasons we seem unable or unwilling to put into practice what we know. Victims nursing wounds often strike back. We need to do more to help such people before they snap.
This means, for one thing, declaring war on bullying, especially in schools, and it means responding with treatment, not just punishment.
For another, it means re-examining our social and our spending priorities. We enable child abusers, especially if they commit their atrocities within the confines of cherished institutions such as the church or football. We cut back on funds for social services. We eliminate social workers, psychologists and counselors from schools because people don’t like paying taxes for them.
But we pay – and we will continue to pay – the price for such short-sightedness.
These suggestions will not eliminate the problem of gun violence, of course. Nothing is guaranteed. But we must rethink our priorities before we become a nation afraid of going to school, to the movies or even to church.
Thomas Zachek of Hubertus is a retired teacher. Email email@example.com