A gun’s purpose is to kill. It may also wound, maim and scar for life, but that’s mostly user error. A gun’s purpose is to kill, and it is very effective. It does not discriminate. Men, women, children. The young, the old. The curious child, the depressed teenager, the working adult, the elected official. We all die just the same.
We have interpreted the Second Amendment, ratified 226 years ago, to mean every adult American has the right to own a gun, and many of us exercise this freedom. Americans make up about 4.5 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. More than 40 percent of the U.S. population lives in a household with a gun, according to the Pew Research Center.
As Americans we seem resigned to the fact that the easy availability of firearms means tens of thousands of us will be shot to death every year, and that some of those deaths will be at the hands of a mass shooter.
What we can’t accept is that this is normal or that nothing can be done.
It is impossible to prevent a violent act by a determined attacker. That fact does not excuse the intentional refusal to do anything that would prevent, or hinder at all, a person who wants to do harm from having quick and easy access to the most lethal and effective weapons.
In the latest example, Devin P. Kelley, the gunman at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, fired at least 450 rounds. He killed 26 people — ranging in age from 18 months to 77 years old — and injured at least 20 more.
In this case, the shooter was able to purchase weapons at a sporting goods store, even though he had been convicted of domestic violence in 2014, because the Air Force failed to report that conviction to the national database used for background checks. But even if his court-martial and conviction had been reported, Kelley could have still skipped any sort of background check if he bought his guns through a private sale or a gun show.
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that background checks on those kinds of purchases are supported by a large majority of Americans — all along the political spectrum — with 77 percent of Republican or Republican-leaning independents and 90 percent of Democrats or Democrat-leaning independents in favor.
Sensible gun control is not a right-left issue in many cases. Other measures that garner support from both sides include preventing people with mental illness from purchasing guns, barring gun purchases by people who are on federal no-fly or law enforcement watchlists and creating a federal database to track gun sales. Even banning assault-style weapons, which produce a much larger casualty count in mass shootings, has majority support.
So far, a small but fanatical minority has kept even these common-sense options off the table. A dedicated single-issue voting bloc that can and does swing elections in a few key regions has all but guaranteed that too many politicians will limit themselves to thoughts and prayers.
Most of us understand that rights come with responsibilities. That setting limits is what protects our freedoms.
Another interesting result of the Pew survey is that only about 15 percent of adults have contacted a public official about gun policy. And out of that, people who did so to complain that gun laws should be less strict outweigh those that want tighter controls.
Mass shootings are not normal. We shouldn’t shake our heads and move on. Gun violence is not the price of freedom. We can’t just shake our fists and be done with it.
It is time the majority spoke. We have to reach out to our elected officials and demand the kind of sensible gun control measures most of us agree with.