Mass shootings encourage vigils and calls for Congress to “do something.” But with. 300 million firearms in circulation, 100 million reportedly illegally owned, it’s far from obvious what to do.
Our annual violent firearm casualty toll of about 12,000 hasn’t encouraged similar calls to “do something.” Some suggest that dreadful annual toll is just the “cost of freedom” to carry guns — similar to 30,000 deaths accompanying nearly 300 million automobiles. Some suggest registering gun owners just as we do auto owners is a step in the right direction. Mandatory gun registration is commonly observed in developed nations.
Critics argue gun ownership is the ultimate protector of American’s freedom.
High on the list of “doing something” are background checks for new purchases. But how to enforce that when many firearms are informally exchanged isn’t clear. And even if brought into law, the existing 300 million in circulation would largely be exempt. And large numbers of weapons would continue to be sold informally. Especially those readily brought over our porous southern border.
Some claim if we’re going to make real progress on America’s high number of gun fatalities we ought seriously discuss how to reduce 300 million in circulation to something approaching “manageable levels.” After all, no other modern nation has anywhere near that total. However, recent Pew surveys suggest about one-half of Americans own guns. Substantially reducing that figure would require some serious political maneuvering.
Some claim we need take stock of our “violence offerings” on TV, movies, web, sports and so on. Some note America itself has a violent past. Controlling “violence offerings” would surely be “challenging.” A fairly reasonable perspective suggests we as a nation need a thoughtful national debate on how to proceed to reduce both mass shootings and our appalling gun violence homicide rates. Asking Congress to just “do something” isn’t likely to resolve our long standing gun violence problem.
If we step back, we need to realize gun violence stems back from our earliest days as a nation when widespread gun ownership helped secure freedom from the British. And America was the only modern western nation that fought a devastating Civil War, taking almost a million lives. We’re long overdue for a major resolution on how to sharply reduce our dreadful annual toll of gun homicides quite apart from occasional mass shootings. With an estimated one half of our population owning guns, that’s apt to be challenging discussion.
Peter I. Berman lives in Norwalk.