December 8, 2019

News Flash: Guns Kill

In the days following the Florida school shooting, all of the usual “guns are as American as apple pie” defenses came out as though they had been saved from the last mass shooting and the one before that. Key to the apple pie defense: “If we all had guns, there would be no gun violence.”

It’s interesting that this theory gets so much play given that it goes against everything we know about human nature. But it’s also based on a false assumption. Guns have never been as American as apple pie. Whether or not you believe the Second Amendment was purposefully misinterpreted (and I believe it was), huge swaths of the country have always found guns odious.

Even now, when the prevalence of guns in the U.S. is beyond belief — 300 million, nearly one for every citizen — more than half are concentrated in the hands of just 3 percent of Americans, who own an average of 17 guns each. About 70 percent of Americans do not own a gun. The percentage of gun owners has actually been declining relative to population growth and is at an almost 40-year low. Least surprising of all, the less education you have, the more likely you are to own a gun.

The latter was clear when I started posting about guns on Facebook after the Florida shooting. I think I finally found the issue that decisively separates classical liberals/conservatives from what I can only call the totalitarian right.

The totalitarian right’s response to mass shootings is the mirror image of the totalitarian left’s response to terrorism: Find every excuse to do nothing. Feel morally superior about doing nothing. Pretend that it’s completely normal for a 19-year-old with a troubled past and emotional issues to legally buy an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

The one idea that the NRA and the far right have come up with is arming teachers. When I posted about the Colorado school district that is now allowing teachers to carry guns, there was much cheering from the “more guns” crowd. Until a teacher friend wrote: “You all forget that teachers are people, too, with a variety of temperaments. I work in a school and I for one would not feel safer if some of my colleagues had guns at work.” She then messaged me about teachers at her school who have been suspended for being violent with the students.

Arming teachers is a bad idea. Having an armed guard at every school is a much better one. Again, human nature needs to be considered.

For the sake of our kids, let’s tone down the anger and find sensible, bipartisan solutions.

Many on the totalitarian right can’t even engage in a civil discussion about the issue. Why should we trust them to own guns? In my 20s, I dated an anti-gun activist who the NRA loathed because he ran circles around them both morally and intellectually. One of the phrases he used has always stuck in my head: “The ready availability of guns.” The accidents, domestic violence and suicides that wouldn’t happen if guns weren’t so readily available.

Of course, I’m not talking about taking away guns. (I would love it, but it could never happen.) But, as Nicholas Kristof wrote in The New York Times, there is clearly much that can be done to prevent all levels of gun tragedies, from mental health checks and safe storage measures, to banning semi-automatics and sales to those under 21, to standardizing gun laws across states.

A key obstacle, Kristof writes, is our mindset. Why shouldn’t guns be given the same rational assessment as cars? Treated as a public health issue?

People on the totalitarian right act as though guns are the most intimate part of their body. When your political philosophy shows more care for a fetus (which I, too, believe is a life) than a child at school, you might want to revisit it.

Meanwhile, the left’s descent into identity politics has not helped. In New York City, so-called progressive groups are succeeding at removing metal detectors from high schools. Why? Because they consider them “racist.” That’s right. Racist metal detectors.

Raw emotions from both sides are distracting us from moving forward on this complex societal conundrum. For the sake of our kids, let’s tone down the anger and find sensible, bipartisan solutions that a majority of the country will get behind.

If not now, when?

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday). Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.