Littwin: Don’t say ‘guns’
The public safety issue that dare not speak its name.
WHEN it became clear that the packaging of pot edibles might be confusing to children, thereby possibly endangering them, the state legislature passed a law seeking to address the problem. Which made sense. Legalizing pot may be a good thing. Putting children at risk is not.
When the cantaloupe-listeria outbreak killed 33 people a few years ago, federal regulators were told to switch their focus to preventing these outbreaks instead of just responding to them. That also made sense. Cantaloupes don’t kill people. Those who are negligent when treating cantaloupes do.
When the latest in a seemingly endless series of emotionally disturbed young men grabs a gun — actually three guns — and shoots up a college town, leaving behind a women-hating manifesto as his final words, you’d think the logic would hold. This is another public-safety issue, and a dangerous kind of sickness. Something would be done.
Except you know that nothing will be done. Not where guns are involved. Not when the NRA gets involved.
That’s our story. And it never seems to change.
The lesson of Sandy Hook — when 20 first-graders were massacred by a disturbed young man with guns — is that this public-safety issue remains somehow different from all the others.
In fact, the real risk can be in simply calling any gun violence a public-safety issue. You may recall the story of the current nominee for surgeon general. His nomination can’t get through the Senate because, it turns out, he has said that gun violence is a public-safety issue. And, of course, the NRA won’t stand for it.
The nominee, Vivek Murthy, didn’t say anything shocking. He is a doctor. And in the medical world, it is commonly held that 30,000 guns deaths a year equate to, yes, a public-safety issue.
But to his surprise, he became a target when the NRA determined that a yes vote on his confirmation would go on any offending senator’s permanent gun record.
And so, a number of cowering Democrats would likely join most Republicans to kill the nomination of someone who has never even made guns a major issue. That’s where we are today.
That’s nothing new, of course. What was new was the Colorado recall movement, fueled by the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which claimed two state senators who voted for the modest gun-control laws that passed in the wake of Aurora. It was a new tactic in intimidation. But it’s the same old story — anyone who tries to limit access to the kinds of lethal weapons that enable gun massacres is labeled a gun-grabber.
The latest act of terror is supposedly different because the killer used a knife in some of the killings, as if that changes the calculus of a disturbed young man in possession of guns driving slowly down the road and firing away.
It was no different for Richard Martinez, whose son Chris, a student at the University of California Santa Barbara, was among those killed. In an anguished speech, Martinez demanded to know why we allow these attacks to continue.
“Why did Chris die? Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA,” he said. “They talk about gun rights. What about Chris’ right to live? When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say, ‘Stop this madness; we don’t have to live like this?’ Too many have died. We should say to ourselves: ‘Not one more.’”
We’re allowed to ask why, of course. It’s a free country. But there are limits on our freedoms, it seems.
In 1996, the NRA got its friends in Congress to pass a law banning the Center for Disease Control from funding research that would “advocate or promote gun control.” The CDC got the message. According to the Washington Post, gun-research funding at the CDC has since dropped from $2.5 million to $100,000. And because researchers rely on federal dollars, gun-violence research has fallen by 60 percent.
And yet, the massacres continue. Massacres make up only a small percentage of gun deaths, but they are the ones that still hold some shock value. We know them by name. Some of them hold our attention for days, even weeks. For some, we note the anniversaries and, on those anniversaries, briefly renew our search for answers.
After the failure of Congress to act following Sandy Hook, Barack Obama issued a series of executive orders, including one for the CDC to resume its research on the causes of gun violence. In his Washington Post story, writer Brad Plumer gathered some questions for which the answers could provide some important insight.
Do limits on high-capacity magazines actually make any difference? What is the relationship between gun ownership and suicide? How do you keep guns out of the hands of the severely mentally ill? How is it possible to identify those who are truly dangerous?
Of course, studying the issues suggests that there is something that needs to be done. It suggests, more to the point, that there is an actual problem.
And in that light, I’d ask this question: In the face of an unrelenting threat, how does a great nation fail to act — every time?
[ Image by Erik (Hash) Hersman ]
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