Despair abets gun violence

A girl lights candles at a memorial in Newtown, Conn.
A girl lights candles at a memorial in Newtown, Conn. (OLIVIER DOULIERY / Abaca Press)
Posted: December 19, 2012

This time, the shots didn't ring out in a movie theater in Colorado, outside a Safeway in Arizona, at a spa or temple in Wisconsin, or on a Virginia college campus. This time, it was children, elementary school boys and girls in Newtown, their bodies carted out like battlefield casualties.

A few days earlier, there was a mass shooting of Christmas shoppers at an Oregon mall. The week before, it was a murder-suicide committed by an NFL player. And every day, there were - and are - less prominent shootings. They claim 100,000 victims every year in America, 30,000 of them deaths.

We all know the post-shooting drill: Politicians will cue up their condolences and run for cover from Americans demanding solutions to the gun violence epidemic. It is "not the time" to discuss solutions, they will claim - and then wait for the nation's attention to be diverted by the next turn of the news cycle.

There are two basic ways we can respond to America's relentless gun carnage. One is resignation to our leaders' failure to address gun violence as we address every other public health and safety problem, and acceptance that periodic mass shootings and 87 gun deaths a day are simply a fact of life in our country. This view assumes that Americans are simply more prone to violence than other peoples, and that we are unavoidably fated to live awash in guns, with no way to control dangerous people's access to high-powered weaponry.

Give up, say the cynics: The gun lobby can't be beaten.

Reload, says the gun lobby. Arm the movie theaters, temples, colleges, and elementary schools. You can't stop the shootings; you can only shoot back.

Dangerous cynicism

We must reject that dark vision - and most Americans do. We believe that Americans are at least as decent and good and peaceful as people of other nations. We also believe that this great nation - which has led the world in war and peace, in economy and medicine and so much else - is at least as capable of tackling the problem of gun violence as the rest of the industrialized world. We are better than this, an emerging majority says.

Cynicism and resignation are as destructive as the semiautomatic AK-47 clones so readily available to dangerous people in America.

More and more Americans are raising their voices and engaging in an honest, open, thoughtful conversation about the need to address our gun violence problem. This conversation is respectful of the now-recognized Second Amendment rights of law-abiding, responsible citizens, while deeply aware of the public safety risks posed by guns, and open to policies that can keep guns out of dangerous hands and off the streets.

Surprising allies

This conversation is happening in promising and often surprising ways. Bob Costas introduced the subject of gun violence to Football Night in America. Bill O'Reilly expressed support for stronger gun policies. Before that, Rupert Murdoch and Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, called for stronger gun laws.

GOP pollster Frank Luntz found that 74 percent of gun owners and NRA members support expanding Brady background checks to all gun sales. (Under existing law, no background checks are required for 40 percent of gun sales.)

And the Supreme Court (per conservative Justice Antonin Scalia) has held that while the Second Amendment does not allow the government to deprive responsible citizens of keeping guns in their homes for self-defense, the Constitution also allows the people, through their elected representatives, to reasonably regulate guns and their use.

The victims who lost loved ones in Aurora, Colo., Tucson, Ariz., and other mass shootings are leading the way, calling for action to spare other families the tragedies they have suffered. This week, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said it is time to engage in this conversation and consider what can be done to reduce gun deaths and injuries.

Americans are coming together in that vast middle ground and speaking out for commonsense laws that will prevent much of the bloodshed we are far too accustomed to. After all, in America, it's often the people who lead. Now it's time for our leaders to follow.


Dan Gross is president of the Brady Campaign and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. He wrote this for the Hartford Courant.

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