So much of our world has been focused for the past three years on the COVID-19 pandemic and the pesky little spike-proteins that wreak havoc, skewering our essential organs and threatening the lives of both the young and the old.
While it’s still killing a few here and there, the frightening virus, despite its frequent introduction of new variants, has largely slipped into the gotta-live-with-it category—still making a lot of people sick, but killing only a relatively small number.
So, with the worst of COVID behind us—as we can only hope—maybe we need to be focusing more attention on another pandemic.
With disturbing predictability, and on most any given day, Americans can’t go to any news source without seeing yet another senseless mass shooting. Our new year—just one month old—has seen at least 37 of these senseless mass killings, with 93 dead and dozens more maimed and crippled.
It’s tragic, and inexcusable.
And yet, a stubborn minority of our citizens still insist that any real regulation of semi-automatic weapons—specifically the so-called “assault rifle”—would be an afront to the Founding Fathers and a Constitution that’s pretty clear on the matter of gun ownership rights. Sadly, the U.S. Constitution is seriously flawed and antiquated. Remember that in 1776, almost all the guns were flintlocks capable of firing, at best, three times per minute.
That’s the kind of gun that was protected—not the modern assault rifles, capable of killing 500 people in that same minute. As much resistance as there is to messing with the Constitution, it’s obvious it needs some serious updating.
We could have learned a lesson from what happened after the Dunblane, Scotland school killings on March 13, 1996, wherein a single shooter killed 16 grade-school students and one teacher before turning the gun on himself. That shooting was the most deadly in U.K. history.
The Scottish citizenry wasted no time; they leapt at the chance to turn in their non-sporting guns, understanding it could have been their own children. And the U.K., almost immediately, enacted strong measures against automatic weapons. The result: Only one mass shooting in the following fourteen years.
Instead of taking a decisive step to better control possession of the assault rifle—a weapon designed only for war—America’s redneck right has insisted on allowing home arsenals of guns capable of killing dozens, or even hundreds, of people in a few short, deranged minutes. With a resistance fueled by gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association, our country has stopped all serious attempts to legislate these weapons.
These shootings have become so commonplace, they’re becoming passe. After a while, the news reports seem like reruns of another terrible B-rated action movie—same stuff: relatives grieving, clerics offering prayers for the dead and hope for the survivors, flags flying at half-mast and proponents of gun control lamenting that this same thing will continue to happen if our country doesn’t take a stronger stand to eliminate, at least from public ownership, those military-style weapons of destruction that are almost always involved.
There are few states that haven’t been closely touched by such tragedies. The steady stream of mass shootings has conditioned us to the expectation that little time will pass before more innocent people will die at the hands of a madman—or mad man.
In a few of these tragedies, motive is discoverable—a disgruntled current or former employee; a man served with divorce papers; an addict, driven mad by dangerous drugs; or someone who received cryptic, telepathic messages from a neighbor’s dog. Some people just want the experience of seeing others die. Normal people can’t even imagine it, but that very motivation has resulted in many killings.
Certainly, the high-capacity magazines and military-style weapons are a significant part of the problem. But as the NRA has been shouting for years, “Guns don’t kill people—people do.”
The NRA notion that guns don’t kill is currently being challenged by numerous lawsuits against the gun manufacturers—including at least 30 in New York alone. With a change in the climate of public opinion, it’s likely that some of these will be decided against those companies.
Sadly, some of those decisions will go on to be heard by our SCOTUS justices, justices who have made consistent far-right determinations, and who have shown that our Supreme Court is now, largely, a politico-economic extension of American business and the delusional Right.
SCOTUS, remember, determined in the Citizens United case that corporations are “people” and that they share the same rights of free speech and tainted campaign contributions, essentially legalizing bribery and corporate-corrupted elections. Considering that the voice of a gun is called a “report,” the SCOTUS aberration—our court of last resort—could well decide that “Guns are people too” and that the Constitutional imperative is to allow them to continue speaking freely.
It’s time to end the madness. The U.S. must act to end the insanity of the assault rifle, enacting permanent legislation to end its deadly, unbridled freedom of speech.
The author is a retired novelist, columnist, and former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and the beloved ashes of their mongrel dog.