September 16, 2019

The Normalization of Gun Violence

Shoppers exit with their hands up after a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. REUTERS/Jorge Salgado August 05, 2019 07:32am EDT

He who saves even one life, it’s as if he’s saved the entire world. So says the Talmud.

In the wake of a weekend of massive gun brutality — in El Paso, Dayton and Chicago — which came just days after the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting, I kept thinking: What is the decent response to our now normalized gun violence?

I use the word decent because I, personally, hate guns. I didn’t grow up in a gun family and no one we knew owned a gun. The idea of pointing a gun at a person or an animal makes me nauseated. If it were up to me, only the military, police and security personnel would be able to have guns.

Of course, it’s not up to me. We have the Second Amendment and, more problematically, we have a well-established gun culture, where guns are something you play with and fetishize.

But we also have the vast majority of the country — decent Americans who may own a handgun for self-defense but are completely disgusted with today’s grotesque level of gun violence.

And so I ask: What is the decent response? Taking handguns away from those abiding by the law is not the answer, though the rate of accidental violence is high, so clearly increased gun safety has to be part of the solution. 

What is the decent response to our now normalized gun violence?

When I ask gun enthusiasts, their answers remind me of how the far left answers nearly all questions: lots of verbiage designed to obscure the truth. Actually, gun purists sound the most like “pro-choice” fundamentalists: “Keep your bloody hands off of my gun/body.” One might reasonably ask both sectors: Why all of this glee in murder?

On Aug. 5, the New York Post’s front page emphatically stated: “Ban Weapons of War.” The editorial page pressed President Donald Trump to ban assault weapons once again. “We know. That label doesn’t actually describe a clear class of guns. And that some studies show that the last ban, in effect from 1994 to 2004, had a limited impact. But that simply means the next ban should be better written, with a clear definition focused on factors like firepower — rate of fire, muzzle velocity, etc. — not on cosmetic features.”

As for the Second Amendment: “[It] leaves ample room for regulating gun rights, just as every other constitutional right has its limits. … The Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment protects the right to own ‘guns in common use.’ That doesn’t cover the semiautomatic weapons regularly used only in mass shootings.”

“ ‘Guns don’t kill people, people do, says the cliché,’ ” the Post continued. “But the twisted and the evil can kill a lot more people when handed a murder machine. Our Founding Fathers gave us the right to bear arms in a time of muskets. They did not foresee a time when one 21-year-old could kill 20 people in the span of minutes.”

Then Trump, who has always been a pragmatic centrist on guns, addressed the nation: “Hate has no place in America.” He pledged additional resources to the FBI, called for strengthening detection of early warning signs and better background checks, and condemned video games and social media for the “glorification of violence.”

“We must recognize that the internet has provided a dangerous avenue to radicalize disturbed minds and perform demented acts,” Trump said. “We must shine light on the dark recesses of the internet and stop mass murders before they start.”

Finally: “Those who commit hate crimes and mass murders should face the death penalty.”

Trump called for bipartisan legislation and unity: “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul. … Open wounds cannot heal if we are divided.”

It was no doubt the most decent speech of his presidency. Democrats responded by blaming Trump for all the shootings. They seem to have missed that the Ohio gunman reportedly was a rabid leftist. Should we blame progressives for his murders? Rabid hate is just as fierce on the left as it is on the right.

Trump has just given us an outline for gun decency. Now he has to follow through, starting with the gun control legislation already in Congress that Republicans have been holding up. Ironically — tragically — uniting on gun violence could be precisely what this country needs right now.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic living in New York City.