“At a time when more than 30,000 Americans are killed by guns each year, it is shameful that the United States Senate can’t pass gun safety legislation that would protect our most vulnerable citizens — our children,” —U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Dec. 13, the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre.
While world peace always tops my Christmas list, this year I’d like to be less ambitious and start here at home, where I feel we could really use the help.
I love America. Maybe because I go for the strong, silent type… the kind who only exercises his ample muscle when necessary.
But when it comes to firearms the U.S., which suffers a gun violence epidemic unparalleled in other wealthy nations, it is weak. Its lawmakers, who lack the spine to fulfill their most basic charge, are wimps compared with international counterparts.
Is there a function more elementary to government than protecting its children? And yet, a year after 20 babies and six adults doing their best to keep them safe lost their lives, our nation has done largely nothing. In fact, as we prepared for the emotional onslaught of the Sandy Hook anniversary, students at Arapahoe High School took cover as another student repeated the now-familiar scenario: indiscriminate shooting followed by suicide. News anchors remarkably reported “only one student was shot” as though it was a reason to rejoice.
There will be no rejoicing for 17 year-old Claire Davis, in a coma after a point-blank shotgun blast to the head.
Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to pass legislation but couldn’t muster the votes in the U.S. Senate, where his Nevada colleague Dean Heller refused to even support background checks. Justin Jones and others in the Nevada Legislature tried but Governor Brian Sandoval took the path of least political resistance and vetoed a background check bill, calling it too cumbersome for gun buyers.
As I write this, on the 222nd anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights, I wonder when did the First Amendment, which guarantees the rights of Americans to redress their grievances, become subjugated to the Second?
Why do seemingly well-intentioned people cower at the notion of small steps toward sane policy? Because an interpretation of the Second Amendment that borders on fallacy terrorizes politicians into believing there is patriotism in idiocy.
Our forefathers never envisioned unfettered access to automatic weapons. In fact, they called for a “well- regulated militia.” If the militia, why not the masses? And there certainly never envisioned automatic muskets that would gun down dozens in a matter of seconds.
Yet, the United States boasts close to 90 guns for every 100 households. That’s more than any nation and almost twice as many as the country that comes in second – Yemen.
A gun control measure did go into effect this year. It’s designed to stem military suicides. It allows military supervisors to attempt to get privately-owned weapons out of the hands of soldiers, the very people who put their lives on the line to defend your right to bear arms. Is it not the ultimate irony that we didn’t hear a peep of opposition from the defenders of freedom, the National Rifle Association?
Retired General Peter Chiarelli told the Christian Science Monitor in 2011 that nearly half of all soldiers who commit suicide use a firearm. He said “suicide in most cases is a spontaneous event” often fueled by alcohol and drugs. He says if you can “separate the individual from the weapon… you can lower the incidences of suicide.”
Despite evidence from other countries such as Japan, where video game-play is epidemic but gun violence is almost non-existent, gun rights advocates blame video games and mental health failures. They rail against common-sense controls, suggest arming the schools and buying more weapons.
While mental health issues are a common thread in mass shootings, experts agree it’s impossible to know what will cause someone to snap. The problem is access. The parent who leaves a weapon within reach of a child. The husband or wife, who in a fit of anger resorts to the unthinkable. The veteran, weary from years of active duty, who returns to this unfamiliar place called home. Or the disgruntled student with a beef against his debate coach.
As painful as it may be to hold a parent who has lost his own child legally responsible for allowing access to a gun, such laws must be enforced. And new laws must be passed that require guns owners to secure their weapons from family members and intruders. And gun manufacturers should be mandated to include any technology available to prevent an unintended user from firing a weapon.
A year ago, after Sandy Hook, our nation found the slightest solace in the hope that the massacre of 5- and 6-year olds would be an event too horrific to ignore. We were wrong.
DANA GENTRY is executive producer of Ralston Reports on KSNV. Editor’s note: The column was written before Tuesday’s shooting in Reno.