Sarah Garrecht Gassen: The 'wouldn't have prevented' gambit on gun-safety laws

2013-05-16T00:00:00Z Sarah Garrecht Gassen: The 'wouldn't have prevented' gambit on gun-safety lawsSarah Garrecht Gassen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Few words are worth less in the campaign to make our communities safer from gun violence than "But it wouldn't have prevented …"

Yet almost every time someone who has been devastated by gun violence advocates for better gun-safety laws, like background checks for every gun purchase, the response is this:

"But it wouldn't have prevented …" and then fill in the blank with the murderous shooting rampage of your choice: Tucson, Columbine, Aurora, Newtown.

So there you have it, folks. No need to change a thing. Improving gun-safety laws may not have prevented one tragedy, so there's no sense in wasting time trying to keep someone else's child, mother, brother, friend, neighbor, grandparent, teacher from being shot to death.

The "it wouldn't have prevented" gambit is pulled from the treasure-trove of offensive pandering. Its purveyors aren't just discounting the lives that have already been taken; they're telling us how much a life today is worth: not much.

Stopping gun violence isn't only about mass shootings. Focusing only on the shocking massacres obscures the daily tragedies of murder, suicide and unintended killings done with a gun.

Scrape away the talking-points sheen opponents of gun-safety laws offer and we end up with this: We can't change the past, so why try to change the future?

It's not why try, but don't try.

Maybe telling people to give up comes naturally when, like the gun lobby, you've been accustomed to getting what you want for years.

But people who have endured real loss because of gun violence aren't the sort to give up. They've survived more than most of us can even fathom, and they are fighting for the futures their loved ones will never have.

The survivors have stood their ground as politicians and pundits try to belittle them, their efforts and their motivations.

The survivors have listened as senators, like Arizona's own Jeff Flake, say the words of compassion - like how we agree on strengthening background checks, as Flake told the mother of a young man murdered at the movies in Aurora, Colo. - and then watched as he voted against legislation that would have done exactly that.

The families of gun murder victims have received hate mail and death threats; they've been disparaged for having the courage to stand in front of the powerful and say, "No, our public safety laws are not good enough."

Increasing public safety by changing gun laws is about making it less easy to commit mass murder by forcing shooters to pause and reload. That's a terrible calculation to make, but it's reality.

Public safety is about making sure the fired worker with a felony record and a seething rage can't just buy a gun over the Internet or at a garage sale.

And when opponents point the finger at mental health and say "but what about that!" we say yes, how we deal with mental illness needs to change, too. But that doesn't give us leave to abandon our obligation to make our communities safer by changing gun laws.

If the people who've lost so much - young children, spouses, mothers, friends - to gun violence would just stop talking about it, if they would just stop trying, life would be so much simpler for the gun lobby and slippery politicians like Flake. But the survivors, and the millions who stand with them in support of gun-safety legislation, know that giving up isn't the American way.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen writes opinion for the Arizona Daily Star. Her column appears Thursdays. Email her at sgassen@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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