April 7, 2020

Awaiting the Candlelight Vigil

By Stephen Tuttle | Oct. 14, 2017

Another day, another massacre, another pile of teddy bears and candles, another candlelight vigil and memorial service, another permanent memorial, another gun debate, another day, another massacre.  

We're good at this because we've had plenty of practice.

The FBI defines a mass killing as one in which at least four people are killed with little time interval or distance between the killings. Despite a reduction in most violence in the country over the last three decades, a mass killing rampage happens here, on average, about every 20 days. Unless the body count reaches double figures we aren't likely to even hear about it. 

We're hearing plenty from politicians these days because of the Las Vegas murders. They all offered their vapid “thoughts and prayers,” and some have even visited the killing field for a nice photo-op. We know they will do nothing. 

Stephen Paddock, the 64-year-old who murdered 58 concert-goers before killing himself, presents a difficult target for those politicians. It's so much easier for them when somebody claims to support a terrorist group or is a Muslim. Paddock, a natural-born American, doesn't appear to have supported or opposed much of anything. A retired, upper-middle-class real estate investor and gambler, he was about as nondescript as a person can be. As this is being written, authorities continue searching for Paddock's motive.

We know he had plenty of guns, all purchased legally, as were the dozen bump stocks he had, an unregulated replacement part that uses the natural recoil of a fired shot to convert a semi-automatic rifle into something that's very close to fully automatic. There's no evidence he was a hunter, target shooter, or gun sportsman of any kind. 

Politicians are now debating whether or not to ban or restrict bump stocks. The National Rifle Association (NRA), whom some politicians fear more than actual gunfire, says it might support some kind of regulation but not a ban.

There's no reason to assume Congress will do anything. The massacre of first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School didn't spur them to action, so it's unlikely the massacre of concertgoers in Las Vegas will. 

There is plenty that could have been done. Congress could have restricted the sale of semi-automatic long guns. (Assault rifles were once banned, but that expired, and Congress did nothing to renew it.) They could outlaw bump stocks and buy back those already in circulation. They could establish a national registry, stop gun show and online sales without background checks, and limit the number of weapons someone can own. They could expand background checks to include mental health and violence referrals.  

They could study the roots that cause us to suffer nearly 35,000 gun deaths annually, more than half of which are suicides. Instead, they passed a law prohibiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from studying the effects of gun violence because, they said, it isn't a disease.  

Whether or not they should do any of that is an open question, but they aren't willing to even seriously debate most of it. We'll never know if new regulations would help because there won't be any.

And the guns continue to pile up. According to the Congressional Research Service, the United States now has more guns in private hands than we have people: 101 guns for every 100 residents. We can legally assemble an arsenal and legally turn semi-automatic long guns into something approaching a machine gun, as Paddock did, and that's fine. It's more than a little foolish.    

Congress might ban bump stocks since they're now an easy target — they're not protected, and somebody just used them to murder dozens of people. But sales of bump stocks skyrocketed immediately after the shooting and continue to climb as Congress talks without acting. 

For those directly impacted in Las Vegas and elsewhere, the shooting will never stop. For the rest of us, it was just another mass killing, albeit with a bigger body count. Death by gunfire is a normal part of American life, happening more than 90 times every single day, according to FBI statistics. We only slow down, briefly, when the horror can't be ignored. 

We aren't going to ban gun ownership, and no politician is now suggesting, or has ever suggested, such a thing, despite what you might have read. Our Supreme Court has already decided a “well-regulated militia” can be one guy with a bunch of guns, so that debate is over.

But if we actually cared, we'd have forced politicians to at least make some changes around the edges. Making it more difficult for homicidal maniacs to obtain their guns of mass destruction seems a worthy endeavor. Instead, we wait for the candlelight vigil in our town.  

Another day, another massacre. 


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