Another mass killing. This time a gay nightclub in Orlando. 50 dead and counting. The usual expected responses from the pro-gun crowd, the anti-gun crowd, religious and not-so religious homophobes, and politicians of all stripes. I'm not quite sold on the terrorism angle yet, even if the suspect called 9/11 and said so. And of course ISIS will accept him as one of their own. I think he was a homophobic American citizen with Islamist leanings who flipped, acquired a legally available automatic rifle and starting shooting. It doesn't take much planning or support from ISIS to do this.
But I want to address the gun issue.
Because it's easy for us non-Americans to shake our heads, tut and wag our fingers and say all guns should be banned, you savages. This seems logical for us since firearms aren’t easily accessible in most other Western countries: why can't you be like us? Yet it's not as clear cut as we'd like it to be.
The current reality is that firearms are readily available, most people can legally buy them and controls vary from strict to lax depending on the state. A lot of people accept them as part of daily life. But criminals can access weapons too, and not just those available to the general public. So the self-defense "if you criminalize guns, then only criminals will have guns" argument is not entirely false. The gun culture is so ingrained in US life via popular culture and the Constitution that changing this will be nigh on impossible. And just imagine the logistics (not to mention the societal impact) of enforcing a total ban: there are hundreds of millions of weapons out there. How do you find them and, more importantly, confiscate them? Kicking down doors at 4am? House to house searches? And what about those buried in fields, gardens, out in the desert? Hmm? A total ban might make emotional sense, but it's not practical.
That said, it's been established beyond doubt that firearms are a psychologically "easy" way to kill large numbers of people. So it follows that if these weapons weren't easily accessible, a significant number of these mass murders probably wouldn't have happened. It's quicker & psychologically easier to shoot large numbers of people from even a short distance than to stab or beat them, face to face, with blades or blunt instruments. You don't get covered in their blood, feel their dying breath, see the shock, pain and terror in their faces or hear much when you have an automatic weapon rattling in your ear, ten meters or more away from your victims.
Would all these mass shooters likely have been mass stabbers or bludgeoners in the absence of easy access to firearms? Probably not. But it’s clear that easy access to these weapons means easy access to killing lots of people quickly in the heat of the moment.
When something like this happens, both sides come out swinging with the usual arguments: on one side you have “ban all guns” and the other side “let everyone have guns so the good guys can defend themselves”. Both of these are very naïve positions and are emotional rather than logical reactions.
I’m not saying anything new here and don’t have a solution. I’m just throwing my two cents worth out there.
Owning firearms is a responsibility as well as a right. You need a mandatory driving license to operate a motor vehicle. You need to pass tests to show that you understand how to drive safely and that you won’t be a danger to others. This is a requirement, and cars aren’t even designed for killing. So why not a mandatory firearms license stating that you’ve passed a training course on firearms safety AND (because firearms have only one purpose: killing) you accept responsibility for securing your weapon when not using it. This training course could also verify that the applicant is mentally stable enough to responsibly own a weapon. If your weapon is used by another person because you irresponsibly left it readily accessible, then you should to a certain extent be responsible for what happens next. Maybe this is already the case in certain jurisdictions? I don’t know.
Yes, more bureaucracy, more administration. I know what the response to this will be, but at a certain point there has to be some kind of regulation. To what degree? I don’t know. I think it’s needed and it’s probably possible without touching the single-sentence Second Amendment.
Enough people have died. But unfortunately again, once the media frenzy dies down, it’ll be back to normal until the next one.* Lather, rinse, repeat. And yes, there will be a next one. Have no doubt about it.
If nothing changes, then the American people will have to accept that these mass killings are the price to pay for the status quo vis à vis gun rights.
And to supporters of the status quo I say this:
I sincerely hope it never happens, but the day you get a call telling you that a loved one was shot by some misguided fool who had no trouble getting his hands on a gun and decided to make things “right”, I can only say I’m sorry for your tragic loss.
*I started drafting this after the shooting in Charleston last year. It never ends.