In her epic shaming of the U.S. Senate in a column this week in the New York Times, former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords vowed to continue her struggle to change the nation’s gun laws.
It’s a noble effort by a woman who not only knows the ways of the Congress but who tragically also knows the ravages of gun violence in America.
Unfortunately, it’s a wasted effort.
America is at a crossroads with its relationship with firearms.
Millions of Americans own guns and use them responsibly. But a few thousand gun owners each year don’t. And the yearly body count racked up by those who use firearms for evil has finally spurred to action millions of other Americans who say they are no longer willing to tolerate the death toll.
But universal background checks for all gun sales, bans of military-style weapons (the so-called assault weapons), limitations on magazine and clip capacities and changes in concealed carry laws will do nothing to reduce the body count.
None of the mass casualty shootings like the one Giffords survived or the one that took the lives of 20 first graders in Newtown, Conn., would have been prevented by any of the law changes the Senate sought to pass last week.
The gun Jared Loughner used to shoot Giffords and 18 other people, killing six, was legally obtained and would have been if those laws were passed. Even if he was prevented from using an extended clip, he could have easily used a second gun rather than reload. The proposed laws wouldn’t have stopped Adam Lanza in Newtown. He could have used any of his mother’s handguns if she hadn’t had the Bushmaster XM-15. Same goes for guns James Holmes used in Aurora, Colo. The laws would have had no effect on the gun Nidal Hasan used at Fort Hood, Texas, or the guns Seung-Hoi Cho used at Virginia Tech.
The problem in those shootings was not the rate of fire of the weapons, their clip or magazine capacity or whether background checks were done when they were purchased (all of those weapons were legally obtained). It was the motivation of the killers. Once they decided to kill, the weapons they used were simply a matter of money, choice and convenience. None of these laws would have changed the enormous amount of firearms for sale in America.
While the mass casualty shootings command the headlines, about 80,000 people a year are shot in America and about 10,000 of them die (another 16,000 or so kill themselves with guns every year). Only a tiny fraction of those casualties occur in mass-casualty shootings.
In the year Giffords was shot, there were 75 homicides in metro Tucson, 69 of which didn’t occur at Safeway on Jan. 8. None of those other shootings resulted in the President coming to town, huge mounds of flower memorials or hundreds of people at candlelight vigils.
We tolerate or even ignore hundreds of shootings and dozens of murders every year in our communities.
And we will have to go on tolerating them thanks to the Second Amendment. The Supreme Court says Americans have a Constitutional right to own firearms.
There are about 300 million firearms in America. Obtaining one is easy unless we’re willing to ban them and confiscate them. And that would mean a repeal of the Second Amendment and possibly suffering through a violent revolt the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1860s.
Chances of repealing the Second Amendment are nil. Guns are part of American culture, as is violence.
Yet there is enormous pressure to do “something” and the bills defeated in the Senate last week were an attempt at “something.” If they had passed, it would have made the people who believe “something must be done” feel better. But the practical effect would have been minimal. The shootings, the deaths, would continue.
So what do we do?
There’s the rub.
Guns and violence are part of our culture, and the unwillingness to provide to our fellow citizens adequate health care, especially mental health care, the resistance to repealing drug prohibition and our reluctance to provide the poor the educational opportunities to escape poverty are part of our politics.
If we want to reduce the gun violence in this country then we need to change our gun culture and the politics of poverty, drugs and healthcare.
Make gun ownership a cultural stigma and access to health care affordable and ubiquitous. Repeal the drug prohibition laws that drive the violence in our communities and give the poor free and first class educations so they, or at least their children, can escape poverty, then maybe we’ll reduce the incidence of gun violence in this country. And maybe then we’ll make the incidence of mass casualty shootings a rare occurrence.
If Giffords and her supporters put their efforts toward those measures, and succeed, they’ll likely make America far more safer than requiring a gun purchaser to fill out a piece of paper.
As long as there’s a Second Amendment there will be guns. We need to solve the motivations for shootings and gun violence than make futile attempts at trying to keep a person with malicious intent from getting his hands on any of the 300 million personal firearms that exist in this country.