One of the interesting things about being a reporter over a long period of time was that you just got to know how things were going to play out. Cover enough stories about gun violence and a pattern unfolds that remains undeniable and, apparently, unchangeable: Many innocents die at the hands of a man whose motives are just not clear. There is a public outcry, perhaps led by President Biden, maybe with memorials hastily constructed from stuffed animals and flowers and toys at the scene. A collection of predicable names pops up with predictable solutions, ban assault weapons, stronger background checks, whatever. Then the opponents make it clear none of that is likely to go anyplace. Then we drift along to the next heartbreak and watch it all play out again.
“This is not and should not be a partisan issue — it is an American issue,” Mr. Biden said. “We have to act.”
Truer words have never been spoken by a president. Why we allowed this kind of issue to slip into the same messy stew of politics that collects and overcooks everything else is kind of a big mystery. From the killing of little kids at an elementary school to the killing of bigger kids at another school and on and on, now to the killing of one valiant cop and lots of completely disconnected victims, this is the same kind of story playing out exactly the same way. Everyone is concerned but because we have made guns a part of the political formula (thank you Republicans for as far back as I care to remember) not a damned thing happens because of our lack of will to confront the obvious culprit.
Let me make a point. I have owned rifles for years, vintage military guns designed for killing people many, many years ago (and, I assume, used for it). I became proficient at shooting them up to about 200 yards, then I put them away and haven’t touched them in years. I am fully capable of killing someone, but it is the very last thing I would ever do. I would be more likely to whip one of those rifles out and throw it at someone than to fire it. That is because I understand my role in society is not vengeance, or even justice, which I leave to the authorities. My weapons are my words. My thoughts. My determination to call on established systems to respond to these kinds of tragedies.
And to call on you, people who read what I write, to think about taking some action of some kind aimed at this problem. We are so in need of strong gun control laws that it seems foolish to have to suggest it. The question, “How many more have to die?” sits right in front of us. The answer is that no one has to die. They die because we have made the wrong choices for a long time.
Now we have a president who literally has nothing to lose in this process. He is an old man who has seen so much of this devastation in his career that it must keep him awake at night. He should start working hard on banning the manufacture of not just the ammo clips, but now the rifles, too. He should work hard to ban their sales and use the bully pulpit to chastise any of the retail places that continue to sell them. He should support laws that require the immediate seizure of any semi-automatic weapons that show up in public. No more shows of force at state capitols. If we have to send the national guard to disarm these people, then we should.
Will that stop the violence? Not at all. There are so many firearms in the U.S. that you would never be able to get all of them. People who use them for these awful purposes would still be able to find them. But we are not obliged to make that easy.
As for the constitutional arguments, there aren’t any. No one who had anything to do with the Second Amendment lived in an era in which these kinds of things could happen. There was no technology like the technology involved in modern firearms. No one was going to shoot up a school with an old rifle. That’s not what they were for. We have a delusional Supreme Court that wants to ignore these realities and keep that Constitutional argument on the table.
But we are in a new era. People just got shot because they wanted to buy some vegetables to make stew for supper. People got shot because they were valiant. People got shot because they were shopping. There is just no constitutional argument that covers this kind of abysmal behavior. Colorado no longer has a death penalty, but the criminal in this case should never see the outdoors again. I don’t believe in cruel and unusual punishments. But I can’t think of anything that fits this crime short of hanging or some other state sanctioned death that would just add another name to a list of people that is growing pathetically long.