Only blocking assault gun access will lead to fewer mass shootings
Just as the only protection from COVID-19 is a vaccination that protects us from the virus, the only effective action against mass shooting is controlling access to assault weapons.
July 4, Independence Day, is America’s most sacred holiday. Fourth of July parades once were celebrations of the joy of American life for young and old. But this year’s July 4th celebrations have been infected and desecrated with a unique American disease — mass shooting.
The action of a solo shooter/murderer in Highland Park highlights the irrelevance to reducing and ending America’s gun violence epidemic by the recently passed “bipartisan” gun legislation. It will not now and maybe ever significantly reduce gun violence.
In 2019, Highland Park police were called to the future shooter’s house when a family member was frightened. The police took 16 knives, a dagger and a sword but returned them that same day to his father, who told them he had been storing them in his son’s closet.
The future shooter denied to police he planned to hurt anyone. The Highland Park police advised the Illinois State Police, who entered information into a database but did not use the information. Five months later with his father’s sponsorship, the future shooter bought an assault rifle.
The Highland Park shooter’s easy access to the purchase of guns highlights the weakness of “red flag” laws. They are intended to identify individuals who have manifested a breakdown in self-control.
The most likely environment to observe such breakdowns is in the family. When police are called and engage family members who have called for help to address their fears, they frequently change their stories.
What was before the call to police a major dispute with a need for law enforcement intervention becomes a simple misunderstanding between family members. The potentially dangerous family member denies any plans for hostile action. The police leave and file a report, and nothing happens.
Highland Park is but one example of communities around our nation. Every community has individuals who feel estranged from society and are cared for by family members who either do not appreciate or may encourage their anger. They see no danger to others.
Red flag laws have not and will not keep many of these individuals from obtaining deadly weapons.
The views of the shooter’s parents regarding their son provided by their lawyer dramatically reveal how a family may distort their perceptions of family members and themselves. This view is particularly poignant when recalling they twice called police for help in addressing concerns about their son and their own safety.
They saw no warning signs. To them, he was just their son. He was a little bit eccentric. He was into music. He was into art. But to them, he was just their son, and there weren’t really any red flags. They leave out other facts: that he was into assault weapons, had access to knives and had attempted suicide.
American gun violence is an infectious disease manifest only within the boundaries of the United States. The infectious agent is an assault weapon.
Just as the only protection from COVID-19 is a vaccination that protects us from the virus, the only effective action against mass shooting is an action, a vaccination, which controls access to assault weapons.
Only blocking assault gun access will lead to a reduction in mass shootings. As with COVID when anti-vaxxers prevent effective treatment, assault weapons kill people. These weapons have no meaningful use for civilians.
Sometime in the future we will have to tell a child, orphaned at 2, what happened to his parents on America’s holiday.
Dr. Sidney Weissman is a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral health at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.