It’s about the guns.
Had the United States, like almost every other civilized country, long ago banned the general sale and ownership of assault weapons, 20 men, women and children in El Paso, Texas, still would be alive today.
It would not matter, reprehensible as it is, that President Donald Trump has been stirring up hatred toward immigrants. The killer at the Walmart on Saturday, who apparently fumed online about “the Hispanic invasion of Texas” just before his rampage, could not have been so lethal without his military-style semiautomatic rifle.
In the same way, it would not matter what drove the killer in downtown Dayton, Ohio, early on Sunday morning. Were it not for his assault-style weapon — reportedly a .223-caliber rifle — nine people still would be alive today. The police shot the killer down in less than a minute, but too late.
And it would not matter what drove the killer last Sunday at a garlic festival in Gilroy, California. Were it not for his AK-47-style assault rifle, a little boy, a teenage girl and a 25-year-old man still would be alive.
It’s about the guns. Every other explanation can get in line.
More than one mass shooting a day
The United States has seen 251 mass shootings in 216 days this year, defined as incidents in which four or more people were shot or killed — not including the shooter — and the only common denominator is that somebody had a gun who should not have had one, often a knock-off of a military gun designed to mow down soldiers in combat.
We tell ourselves that our nation has a mental health problem but, as the New York Times reports, studies show that Americans have no more mental health problems than do people in other countries with far fewer mass shootings.
We tell ourselves we’re a more violent society, but studies say that’s not true, either. We’re just more lethal, with our guns, when we turn violent.
We blame mass shootings on the conflicts of living in a multicultural society, with people of so many different religions and colors. People get angry. Yet much of Western Europe is struggling to cope with ever greater racial and religious diversity, including high levels of immigration, and the number of mass shootings there doesn’t begin to approach the number here.
The great divider is guns.
Countries that have the most guns per capita have the most mass shootings. And the United States, with 4 percent of the world’s population, has an estimated 40 percent of the world’s guns.
A nation begs for saner gun laws
What will save America from the almost daily horror of mass shootings — not immediately, but over time — is saner federal gun laws.
Nobody needs an AK-47 to hunt deer, protect their home or shoot at a target for sport. Semi-automatic weapons should be banned.
Anybody who wants to buy a gun, or receive one as a gift, should be required to undergo a national criminal and mental health background check — whether that gun is from a gun shop, an online website, a gun show, a garage sale, the next-door neighbor or a parent.
Federal regulators should be given more time to conduct background checks, closing a loophole that made it possible for Dylann Roof — who previously had admitted to possessing illegal drugs — to buy a gun in 2015 and kill nine people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The U.S. surgeon general should be required to give Congress a yearly report on how gun violence affects public health. The gun lobby fights to prohibit such research, knowing how damning the findings would be.
Stricter federal gun laws are essential because state laws, a hodgepodge of rules and restrictions, will never be enough. Guns flow like dirty water across state borders.
The 19-year-old shooter in Gilroy, California, could not legally buy an AK-47-style rifle in California. He bought it legally, instead, just across the state line, in Nevada. In Chicago, 60 percent of the guns used in crimes come from other states where gun sales are far less regulated.
Early on Sunday morning in Douglas Park on Chicago’s West side, seven people were injured in a drive-by shooting, during a weekend in which at least four people were killed and 43 wounded citywide. We have no idea, at this point, where that gun came from. But you can bet it wasn’t purchased legally at a reputable local gun shop by an elderly woman just trying to protect her bungalow.
Hodgepodge of state laws inadequate
And as loose as state gun laws already are, gun lobbyists work every day to make them looser.
In Illinois, no sooner did Gov. J.B. Pritzker sign a law in January requiring gun sellers to be certified by the state than the Illinois Rifle Association filed a lawsuit to undo the law. The gun group called the restrictions “onerous.”
In Texas this year, the legislature rolled back a number of gun restrictions, limiting the ability of school districts to regulate guns in parking lots, allowing foster homes to store guns and barring landlords from prohibiting tenants from owning guns. Guns no longer will be automatically prohibited from Texas churches, mosques and synagogues.
In the immediate aftermath of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton this weekend, the politicians who cower before the gun lobby tried to sound tough by calling the killers “domestic terrorists” and demanding the death penalty.
As if that will make a bit of difference.
The alienated young men who commit mass murder often have a death wish anyway.
Remembering those who died
So here we are — 900 words into an editorial about 29 people who died and 51 or more who were injured in two mass shootings this weekend — and we have yet to offer our thoughts and prayers.
Why would that be?
Because we are tired of thoughts and prayers.
Because the best way to honor those who have been killed is to do something honest and real to spare others the same fate.
Because it’s about the guns.
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