Is there any other civilized country on earth where a teenager can walk into a gun store and legally buy military-style assault weapons and large magazines designed to maximize the death toll?
We all know the answer to that. Just like we all know that the latest tragedy in Sutherland, Texas will be followed by more gruesome mass shootings of Americans while they pray, watch a movie, listen to a concert, sit quietly as a teacher reads, attend a peaceful rally — or just go to work, the post office, a lecture, a restaurant, a family reunion.
Just like we know that every few week, Washington politicians will send “thoughts and prayers” to innocent victims and their families, but dismiss any talk of gun control legislation as disrespectful of the dead; and for a few days there’ll be an outcry about mental illness from the very politicians who have slashed such health care funding.
Just like we know that the NRA and those who consider themselves defenders of the Second Amendment will swear that guns are not the problem and then turn around and suggest that guns are the only solution — to arm the nation, from the pulpit to the kindergarten classroom.
Just like we know people like me in every state will write op-ed pieces full of grief and anger, demanding sensible gun laws, while the gun makers get richer, the politicians more callous, and the majority of Americans who support a ban on assault weapons grow more discouraged.
We know all this. But is it a comfort to the Sandy Hook families? The families in Charleston or Sutherland or a hundred other cities? Is it a comfort to parents or grandparents or any American hoping to make the world a little safer and more respectful?
After decades of ever-increasing, senseless mass murders, it must appear to non-Americans that our Second Amendment rights trump all other freedoms. That we in America value the right to possess and potentially use an assault-style rifle above all other citizen commitments to keep the peace.
As someone who treasures this democracy for which so many have given their lives to sustain, I see the lack of gun control as an assault on freedom. The constant stream of mass murders for the last three decades has weakened our First Amendment rights — to assemble peaceably, to speak and worship freely. Who doesn’t feel a twinge of fear now in a darkened movie theater or bowing their head in a place of worship? Who can go to a large public celebration without wondering if it might turn into a massacre? Who hasn’t said a prayer for their child to be safe at school?
As a baby boomer, I had the privilege of growing up in an open, free society. Not perfect, but at least domestically not armed to the teeth and perennially paranoid. What we have now is the de-civilizing of a great nation.
If we care about democracy, the very least we can do is to immediately, without loopholes, ban all military-style, semi-automatic, assault weapons. Of course, increased funding for mental illness, universal background checks, domestic violence prevention are also needed. But this ban, which presidents from both political parties supported back in the ’90s, is a critical first step to restoring homeland security. Without it, the tragedy of mass murder will go unchecked, and our personal freedom — save the right to amass an arsenal — will continue to erode.