Friday’s massacre of 26 kindergarten students and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, was shocking to every American. But it was not surprising.
Mass murders of innocent American citizens, young and old alike, have become routine in the United States. There is not one place where Americans gather, whether they be churches, schools, shopping malls, public rallies, or movie theaters, where American citizens are safe from a person, deranged or merely hateful, who is armed with a modern military-grade weapon of mass lethality.
We have seen some pundits label the National Rifle Association as the equivalent of a terrorist organization. Although we will not engage in such hyperbole, the reality is that no group has done more to ensure the proliferation of hundreds of thousands of high capacity weapons of mass murder than the NRA, which opposes gun control in any form and which made sure that the assault rifle weapon ban which was passed in 1994 by a Democratic-controlled Congress was allowed to expire under a Republican-controlled Congress in 2004.
We profess our fear of foreign extremists and terrorists and spend hundreds of billions of dollars annual to thwart terrorism. But the simple facts are these: 30,000 American citizens die annually from guns, which is 10 times the number of Americans who were killed on 9/11; more of our people are killed on our own soil by gunfire every six months than have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan together; and firearms claim a life in America every 20 minutes.
And how about this statistic: Children ages 5 to 14 in the U.S. are 13 times as likely to be murdered with guns as are children in other industrialized countries.
Some argue that the only reason that would-be mass murderers go to our schools, churches, and shopping malls is because they know that they will not run into gun-bearing opposition. But, even if it were feasible, do we really want to arm our school teachers so that there is a loaded gun in every classroom in America? Can it even seriously be argued that this is a sign of a civilized nation? This is Archie Bunker-mentality: Archie argued that the best way to stop plane hijackings (which came into vogue in the early 1970s) was to give every passenger a gun as they stepped onto the plane, “Because that way, when the terrorist pulls out his gun, every passenger would pull out theirs and get the drop on him,” Archie said. We laughed at the absurdity of Archie Bunker’s logic a generation ago, but the NRA says it makes perfect sense now.
And to those who say that, “Guns don’t kill, people do,” let’s consider the example of Australia, a rugged-individual sort of country like ours: After a mass killing of 35 people in 1996, Australia banned rapid-fire guns, buying back 650,000 such weapons guns and imposing tighter rules for licensing and safe storage of those remaining in public hands. This law reduced the number of the kinds of firearms most likely to be used in mass shootings. In the 18 years before the law, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings, but there has not been one in the 14 years after the law took full effect and the murder rate with firearms has dropped by more than 40 percent.
In our own little town of Winthrop, we had the makings of a mass shooting in the mid-1960s. The neighbor to a house where a high school graduation party was being held got fed up with the noise, pulled out his .22 caliber rifle, and started shooting at the teenage youngsters from his adjacent back porch. He had a single shot rifle and his aim was poor, so fortunately no one was hit as the teens scattered. But let’s fast forward 50 years and let’s suppose this shooter had a weapon that could fire 100 bullets a minute can one imagine how many young people might be killed?
The time has come for us to get serious about guns and use some common sense in the regulation of firearms and the types of firearms we should allow in private hands. Unless we do, there will be more tragedies of the kind that have become all too commonplace in America.