Shame On Us

Hooray for America, land of the free. Free to watch the headlines of mass shootings become routine in the news, the liberty of reading about gun nuts freak out about even the mention of new gun policy. And I’ll be damned if democracy in the Senate is now defined by the need for 60 votes to do anything. Yes, we can all rest a little easier because the tyrannical gun legislation has been defeated despite wildly popular support.

I would have cheered for the renewal of the assault weapons ban and a limit on high capacity magazines. Yet that’s not what had bipartisan support. What should have passed were the amendments to widen the requirements for background checks to include all gun purchases because an estimated 40% of guns are bought without one, which failed 54-46 even with NRA support because of a loophole allowing guns to still be bought as gifts, and the strengthening of penalties for buying guns for known felons, which failed 58-42. In poll after poll, 90% of Americans support these simple and light handed proposals after the Newtown massacre. The families of Newtown lobbied hard on Capitol Hill for this vote. But the Republicans couldn’t bring themselves to allow the families of Newtown their minor victory because it was tied to president Obama.

I’ve heard a lot of complaints from angry pundits claiming Obama should have twisted arms more especially in his own party. But on the background check amendment, 4 Democrats voted against it, which would have brought the amendment total to 58, not enough to bring the margin to 60. Every Democrat voted for the straw purchase amendment. It is pointless to try and rally Republicans in the Senate because they spend most of their time filibustering any and all democratic legislation since 2008. Those that peel off to be bipartisan can expect to be punished by party leaders.  If Obama came out today in favor of the grass being green, Senate Republicans would be there the next morning to spray paint the white house lawn.

And then there is this ridiculous argument that we shouldn’t strengthen our screening laws because criminals don’t obey them. If that’s the case, we might as well legalize murder or grand theft auto since they will happen anyway. Why not live in total anarchy because someone in some place will do it anyway? I also cannot stress the absurdity of striking down legislation because it would add 5 minutes or 5 dollars to the purchase of gun which has the potential to kill dozens of people within a few minutes. Our gun laws are so loose that we don’t allow people on the terrorist watch list to buy a plane ticket, but they can still legally buy a gun.

Gun violence is not attributable to video games or movies, or the Japanese murder rate would be double ours. Our gun violence is quite simply because of the massive volume of guns in the United States. We have about 1 gun per person—300 million or so—about double the amount of the nearest country in per capita gun ownership, Yemen, and about 15 times higher than other wealthy nations. We are a trigger happy nation with an exaggerated fear of violent crime and a rugged individualism which has embedded shoot-to-kill self-defense into our fabric. 3,400 people have died from terrorism since 1970, something we have spent hundreds of billions of dollars trying to prevent. In that same time, over 900,000 people have died from gun violence, about 30,000 per year. And we the people are numb to doing anything because the 2nd amendment makes this a norm in today’s USA.

A national gun registry was not on the table, though it should be created. No one was and never will be demanding responsible gun owners turn in their arms, and even an assault weapons ban would have likely grandfathered in guns already bought. Countries that experience the massacres we do enact tough gun legislation in response. Japan, which has strict gun laws, had 11 gun related deaths in 2008. Australia has seen a 59% decrease in homicide after a 1996 ban on assault weapons. It’s not a difference of culture or a different way of living. It is our gun addiction which we think replaces our police and solves everything. The shame in the defeat of even miniscule gun legislation rests on the American population, for being satisfied with a society that has lost more of its citizens to gun violence in the past 30 years than it has in all of its’ foreign wars combined. Nothing we do will prevent all gun violence, but eventually we will have to accept that doing nothing is not an acceptable alternative. Our right to bear arms, no longer limited to militias holding muskets and flintlocks, needs to come with greater regulation and responsibility. If we can’t even agree on that, then we are truly the fools.

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