The wave of mass shootings that rocked the United States in 2012 reignited the gun control debate with explosive force. After so much tragedy, politicians in Washington are under pressure to do something — anything — to slow the epidemic of violence. Last week, President Barack Obama passed executive orders making more data available to federal background checks and allowing the Center for Disease Control to begin scientific investigations of the causes of gun violence. Obama also asked Congress to pass legislation requiring background checks for all purchases of firearms and banning high-capacity magazines.
It would be hopelessly optimistic to think that these executive orders and forthcoming legislation represent a viable solution to America’s problem with gun violence. Nevertheless, these measures represent a deliberate step in the right direction — that’s why it’s maddening the gun lobby and some voices in the Republican Party are determined to shut down any constructive discussion of gun control and to stonewall any attempts to take action to prevent mass shootings. According to USA Today, Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus called the legislation “an executive power grab that may please his political base but will not solve the problems at hand.” The National Rifle Association issued a statement claiming “attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation.”
The NRA is right about one — and maybe only one — thing: Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. The root causes of murder aren’t high capacity magazines and spotty background checks; to ask why people kill people is to delve deep into the human psyche. People who commit mass murders often exhibit dark, disturbed and complicated psychologies, and have led very troubled lives. All this is to say, determining the root causes of gun violence is a messy and complicated business. It will take time to make progress, and we can’t hope to ever completely understand what drives people to commit murder.
For this reason, a scientific investigation into the causes of gun violence is long overdue. Before Obama’s executive actions were delivered, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were actually prohibited from investigating gun violence. If this seems hard to believe, consider it an example of the disconcerting political power of the gun lobby. It is as if America was locked in a cage with a tiger and then put on a blindfold so as not to look at the tiger. If gun violence is killing thousands of people a year, we ought to at least examine its causes.
What the NRA doesn’t emphasize is that people kill people with guns. Guns don’t cause murder, but semi-automatic weapons with high-capacity magazines are the weapons of mass shootings.
While it’s doubtful Congress can address the convoluted psychology that drives people to murder, it could at least pass laws that ban the high-capacity assault rifles designed to kill a large number of people and attempt to restrict the sale of guns to those qualified to own them. These are concrete, quantifiable measures that will have an immediate impact and decrease the rate of homicides by firearms in America.
The executive actions and legislation on the table is remarkably moderate. Nowhere is there a discussion of handguns, an intention to confiscate firearms from gun owners or an effort to ban guns altogether. What about this legislation could anyone find so abrasive? Could the gun lobby be any more blindly and stubbornly resistant?
Two summers ago, when I was working at a summer camp in northern Minnesota, another counselor and I walked into our cabin and found a few of our campers showing each other their knives — we counted seven knives altogether. Realizing there was no way we were going to bring that many knives on a canoe trip, we walked in and began explaining how knives were tools, not toys, and confiscated them. One camper had a long, thin, double-edged blade I could only describe as an assassin dagger, and when he complained he wanted to bring it but couldn’t think of a possible use we would find for it, we explained in all honesty, that sort of knife is only meant for killing people, and took it away.
The situation with gun control is exactly the same. Nobody, aside from radical leftists, is trying to ban guns altogether. Hunters can keep their rifles; homeowners can keep a handgun if it gives them an added sense of security. However, considering murder is not only a crime but also an epidemic in this country, and mass shootings have taken hundreds of lives in the past decade, it is extremely reasonable that we get rid of guns designed specifically to kill many people at a time.
While Congress is poised to enact concrete legislation with the potential to save lives, the gun lobby and its voices in Washington have refused to compromise their unyielding and fundamentalist support of the Second Amendment. The NRA characterized the legislation in Congress as “an all-out attack on the Constitution and the rule of law” and “the wholesale destruction of gun rights in this country.” It ran an advertisement calling Obama an “elitist hypocrite.”
The gun lobby’s response to the mass shootings that have rocked this country has been entirely unsympathetic. Its opposition to moderate gun control legislation has been embarrassingly obstructionist; rather than come up with a legitimate argument against background checks and assault rifle bans, it has been hiding behind Second Amendment fundamentalism. The gun lobby, the NRA as its loudest voice and its supporters in Congress, have made it clear that they simply cannot be reasoned with.
It’s a damn shame. Amid immense political pressure, Congress is ready to take moderate steps towards a more sensible gun control policy — and it has come face to face with the irrational and unbending opposition of a well-funded but extremist lobby that would watch the world burn before surrendering its precious Second Amendment rights.
My question: Congress is finally in a position to put a stop to America’s gun violence epidemic. Why the hell is it giving the NRA the time of day?
Charles Godfrey (email@example.com) is a junior majoring in physics and mathematics.