You think the title of this post is too harsh? Or perhaps it is inappropriately soon to be talking gun policy? Or that I am guilty of politicizing America’s typical reaction - and inaction - to mass shootings? Read on.
The Las Vegas shooter had several “bump stocks” in his armory room in the Mandalay Bay hotel. Basically these devices convert a semi-automatic rifle into a fully automatic rifle. And such conversions skirt the laws concerning purchase and possession of automatic fire arms.
Here are the details in the Washington Post article All about bump stocks, the deadly gun accessory used in Vegas that Congress might ban.
But even the mere possibility that a recalcitrant Congress just might consider acting on bump stocks was enough to send the gunnies in our population rushing to gun stores seeking to buy those gadgets that they previously didn’t want or know they needed until the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting. CNN Money reports that Bump stocks are selling briskly since Vegas attack, some sellers say.
There are two questions that I find interesting in these reports. The first concerns reports that the NRA is supporting of banning bump stocks. The media finds this surprising. It is not. It may not even be real. Consider this analysis in this morning’s Daily Star: Is NRA move to regulate ‘bump stocks’ real or a ruse?
When the National Rifle Association urged the government to revisit whether “bump stocks” should be restricted, it immediately raised eyebrows. Why would the nation’s leading gun-rights organization, not known for compromise, be willing to bend even just a bit when it wields perhaps more influence than ever?
Some gun-industry experts say the NRA’s move is little more than a ruse to stall any momentum for wider gun control until outrage over the Las Vegas attack subsides. It also carries little risk. For one, it’s rare for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to reverse course without a change in the law. For another, “bump stocks” are not big moneymakers for the gun industry. And by seeking an administrative change, rather than a new law, the NRA allows its supporters in Congress to avoid going on the record with a vote.
“They’re dismissed as silly gadgets that really inhibit the accuracy of a firearm. If these bump stocks were super popular among gun owners, we’d see a very different position from the NRA,” said Adam Winkler, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law and author of “Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America.”
The NRA “can throw a sacrificial lamb of ‘bump stocks’ because they know that gun owners don’t use them or like them,” he added.
So this is a no-cost move for the NRA and its congressional minions. The NRA still stands squarely behind the rights of Americans to kill other Americans with military-grade guns.
The second question I’ve pondered for years: at Butch Cassidy put it, “Who are those guys?” - the ones who queue up at gun sales locations to buy bump stocks?
Let’s start with the narrower question: who are the ones who commit mass murder? One hypothesis is that they have mental health problems.
I once had a conversation with a Congressman about gun control. He observed that doing anything in Congress about gun control was a “heavy lift” and that is why he was in favor of solutions focusing on mental health. That struck me then - and now - as a dodge. Even if we could guarantee perfect mental health (whatever that is) there still would remain the question of why we have hundreds of thousands of weapons, some grandfathered-in fully automatic ones.
A columnist in this morning’s Daily Star agrees. Fareed Zakaria: Stop talking about mental health — it’s a dodge.
Actually, the quick assumption of mental illness distorts the discussion. First, it smears people who do have mental disorders. Such people are not inherently highly prone to violence. They are more often victims of violence than perpetrators. And to the extent that some are violent, they are more likely to inflict harm on themselves. Mental-health issues are correlated to suicides far more closely than they are to homicides.
Second, turning immediately to the “sickness” of the shooter and piously calling for better mental-health care is, more often than not, an attempt to divert attention from the main issue: guns. (It’s also breathtakingly cynical since the politicians who use this rhetoric are typically the ones who also aim to cut funding for mental-health treatment.) Every conversation about gun deaths should begin by recognizing one blindingly clear fact about this problem — the United States is on its own planet. The gun-death rate in the U.S. is 10 times that of other advanced industrial countries. Places like Japan and South Korea have close to zero gun-related deaths in a year. The United States has around 30,000.
This disparity is the central fact that needs to be studied, explained and addressed. When seen in this light, it becomes obvious why focusing on mental health is a dodge. The rate of mental illness in the United States is not anywhere close to 40 times the rate in Britain. But the rate of gun deaths is 40 times higher. America does have about 15 times as many guns as Britain per capita and far fewer restrictions on their ownership and use.
When studied state-by-state, Zakaria reports the correlation between availability of guns and gun deaths. (For details, see Zakaria’s column here.)
How to tackle this issue is a more complex problem, made particularly difficult by the fact that we refuse to study it — literally. One of the main government agencies that sponsors research on public health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been virtually forbidden by law from doing any research on gun violence for two decades. Buried in a 1996 law is a provision, championed by the National Rifle Association, that prohibits the CDC from funding research that might “advocate or promote gun control.” In America, in 2017, we essentially have a ban on scientific research that might lead to inconvenient conclusions.
Given the Second Amendment, America’s gun culture and the influence of the gun lobby, there isn’t any simple answer. But there are many small fixes that would make a big difference: universal background checks; restrictions on military-style weaponry (of which banning bump stocks would be a tiny first step); a ban on selling to people with a history of domestic violence or substance abuse. But first we have to stop the dodges and the diversions. When you consider America’s stubborn inaction in the face of this continuing and preventable epidemic of gun violence — I sometimes wonder if it is all of us Americans who are crazy.
I said it before in my essay J’accuse: Our national failure and disgrace.
I accuse the American people for tolerating the murders of their fellow citizens - adults and children alike - in the name of an archaic document. I accuse my fellow Americans of rewriting their Constitution so as to bestow a right to bear weapons of mass murder. I accuse my fellow Americans of living in mindless fear, of being so afraid of all that surrounds us. I accuse my fellow Americans of being gulled by the gun industry and the NRA and the political leaders into believing that more guns mean more freedom and security.
I accuse, then, most of all, the United States of America for its failure as a nation. I accuse the USA of failing “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity …” I accuse the USA of inflicting unjust injury on its citizens. I accuse the USA of fostering domestic discord. I accuse the USA of harming the general welfare. I accuse the USA of the dishonest equation of guns and liberty. I accuse the United States of America of accepting and condoning the deaths of its citizens.
Our society is infected with a “gun culture” and that malady, like all other diseases, is a public health issue that needs research and intervention by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Given that the infection is manifest among our political leaders, such actions are unlikely to be taken any time soon. Even 59 deaths and over 500 wounded are acceptable losses in the NRA’s crusade for guns, more guns, and more guns. Perhaps we can now name the societal infection: the devaluation of human life.