Gun violence is common because Americans permit it, says columnist Jerry Large, and it’s past time to change that.
Are we sick of gun violence yet? I thought we were a long time ago, but we keep cycling from shock to amnesia.
Some of the people injured in Thursday’s shooting rampage at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., were taken to a hospital in Springfield. Do you remember Springfield, Ore.?
Springfield is where, one day late in May 1998, a student at Thurston High School used a rifle to kill two students and injure 35 other students and staff. The day before, he’d shot his parents to death. I was part of the flood of journalists who flew in that day to report the story, and I thought the tragedy might change something in the way we think about the place guns have in this country. But I guess it faded away, except for the people directly affected by it.
After this latest shooting, I read that Oregon is one of the states that allow people to carry concealed weapons on college campuses.
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I’d written about the damage people do when they have easy access to guns before Springfield, and I’ve written about it many times since. I was already sick of it the first time, when I was a summer intern at my hometown newspaper in New Mexico and my editor sent me to a house where a little boy had found his father’s handgun and fatally shot his sister.
I won’t ever forget that, and just a few years ago, I thought none of us would forget what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and that the deaths of 20 children and six adults would shake people up enough to get them to enact more sensible gun-control laws.
In the year after that 2012 mass shooting, almost every state enacted new gun laws. Wait, though: Two-thirds of those laws loosened restrictions on gun ownership. Washington state was in the minority. It adopted a law creating a registry of gun offenders.
And something else happened around the country in that year: Gun sales soared.
Did you watch President Obama’s speech after the Umpqua massacre? He’d tried to get national legislation passed after Sandy Hook, but the opposition was too much. Like a lot of people, he’s feeling frustrated. Most Americans want some basic controls on guns, but the gun lobby keeps that from happening.
Obama stood at a podium last Thursday and asked that Americans embrace the people who are suffering most, then added:
“But as I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted some place else in America — next week, or a couple of months from now.”
Mass shootings grab attention, but in a gun-saturated, violence-prone country, people die by the gun every day, 30,000 Americans every year. No other country comes close to that. In the U.S., guns are used frequently in violent crimes, and most murders involve guns. And in the U.S., guns are the surest way for people to kill themselves. People do that thousands of times a year, mostly without headlines.
The day I sat in Springfield and talked with the family of a student who had been injured, a high-school student in Lewis County walked onto a school bus with a loaded handgun. After he got off, the driver called authorities. The boy fatally shot himself while his father tried to get to him.
After Newtown three years ago, I wrote, “This may be the moment when we make a breakthrough on reining in gun violence.” Well, it wasn’t that, but something did happen. Newtown sprouted a new movement to press for the kind of rational gun laws that other democratic countries with advanced economies have.
There are more people advocating that we treat gun violence as a health issue because of the damage it does.
Change may be slow, but it is going to come. Maybe we’ll start by making gun ownership at least as hard as getting a driver’s license. Maybe we’ll adopt stricter measures and even get to the point where guns are hard enough to get that it won’t be commonplace for someone to walk into a public place and start shooting.
But first, the people we elect have to get sick of being complicit in gun violence. That will only happen if we stop forgetting and start making gun sense a prerequisite for our votes.
The president was right when he said gun violence is a political choice we make. We can make a different choice that won’t leave us feeling ill.