Over the past two years, I’ve written at least five opinion columns on the topic of mass shooters and gun violence. With the unfortunate regularity of wash-rinse-repeat, here’s another. Over the last weekend, America received a one-two punch of mass killings, first in El Paso, TX, and then in Dayton, OH.
In both cases, the men were prepared for the tasks which lie ahead of them; both wore protective equipment and were heavily armed with rifles and ammunition. (one wore hearing protection and the other body armor) One shooter wrote a racist manifesto, the other made social media threats before his crimes. It is pretty easy to say in both cases the shooters were mentally disturbed by the way they detached themselves from normal human behavior on their killing sprees.
The major difference in these two tragic stories is the cops in Ohio killed the Dayton shooter within seconds of confronting him. In Texas, the gunman escaped but was later captured with no struggle whatsoever. The Texas shooter is reportedly cooperating with the investigation, which should give enormous insight into the defective mind of these shooters.
In the news media, there has been a common talking point; America has more guns than people, with over 300 million firearms in circulation. Some people automatically assume guns are the problem when they are not. It is crazy people and criminals that are the problem.
There was a time when nearly everyone in America owned a firearm if they wanted to eat. As the population in America has grown, statistics show the percentage of citizens owning firearms has shrunk. But, we still have more firearms than people indicating there are some people with lots of guns. Shockingly, just 3% of the US population owns over half of the guns in this country – let that sink in. (Pew Research) This trend has taken gun ownership out of the mainstream of the population making it an easy target for demonization.
Perhaps we should focus less on the impossible task of gun buy-backs or confiscation and more time on preventing demented people from doing awful things. Over the past 30 years, our culture had a collective sense of doing the right thing which made enormous strides in limiting the number of deaths caused by drunk drivers. Through education and enforcement people killed by drunk drivers has been reduced by a third since 1991, meaning over 90 thousand lives saved. (www.responsibility.org) Let me remind you, driving a car is a licensed privilege while owning a firearm is a constitutional right enshrined in the 2nd Amendment.
America needs unifying from both sides of the aisle, to focus on keeping guns away from crazy people and criminals which doesn’t infringe upon the law-abiding citizen. The mass-shooter was unheard of 50 years ago, a time when even machine guns weren’t yet regulated. In the 1960s the gun-to-person ratio was much higher in our country, making the question “What’s changed?” front and center of people’s thoughts.
Here are a few things which I think have changed in the past 50 years; fewer people going to church regularly (me included), the number of nuclear families is dropping like a rock, law-makers are going soft on crime, internet social media reaches a wide-spread audience easily radicalizing the weak-willed, mental hospitals are all but nonexistent and hardly anyone takes responsibility for their actions.
Another change in our culture, which is difficult to figure out the full impact, is the proliferation of violent video games. My generation’s video game was Pong, which was as exciting as watching paint dry. The only serious video games I’ve ever “played” were as an adult; first, while I was in the military using a tank turret simulator “killing” targets and then on the police force using shoot/don’t-shoot scenarios on a life-sized screen. Both were quite realistic and more than stressful. Imagine a 22-year-old with mental health issues who played realistic shooting games for most of their life. I’m betting that person maybe just a little bit desensitized to the consequences of pulling a trigger.
Enough talk about the problem of guns and the mentally ill, how about meaningful efforts to keep firearms away from the criminal element? While everyone is American was focused on two mass casualty incidents, how many people heard about what happened in Chicago over the weekend? In the Windy City, seven people were shot and killed and another 50 were wounded by gunfire. As far as I can tell, none of those incidents involved a law-abiding citizen with a pistol permit. Consider that Chicago is known as one of, if not the most strict city for possessing a firearm. Not a peep about this carnage in the national news.
And finally, this happened over the weekend; Astrophysicist Neal deGrasse Tyson, who no one considers right of center, weighed-in on the two mass shootings. His statement blew people’s minds with his matter-of-fact quote based upon statistical studies as only a scientist could say it: “In the past 48 hrs, the USA horrifically lost 34 people to mass shootings. On average, across any 48hrs, we also lose; 500 to medical errors, 300 to the flu, 250 to suicide, 200 to car accidents and 40 to homicide via handgun. Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data.”
(This weekly opinion column runs in the Evening Sun every Wednesday.)