I told myself I wasn’t going to write about guns again. Because why? What’s the damn point?
In the moments after the shooting in El Paso, I went to Twitter, like millions of others, and tweeted this: “This country didn’t care enough to fix this problem when kindergartners were murdered at their school. What are the odds 20 dead Walmart shoppers will have a different result?”
Regular readers of this column know where I stand. Chances are, if your political views are unaligned with mine, you perhaps half expected to pick up this newspaper today and see what liberal “snowflakey,” blamey crap I had to say. And if your views align with mine, maybe you expected a lament.
Well, you’re both going to get what you expected today. Sort of.
First, the facts:
- Total number of people dead in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH: 31
- As of Aug. 5, there have been 255 mass shootings in the U.S. this year.
- People on all sides have something to say.
- In polls taken before these recent shootings, most Americans — between 60 and 70% — favored stricter gun laws.
The other day I was watching a video clip of Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” His words echoed something I’ve been saying for years. He said that whenever something like this happens, the reaction of people on the left is to try to do something, anything, to solve the problem. And the reaction of people on the right is to blame it all on mental health and refute any legislation on the grounds that it won’t solve the problem.
We should try everything we can think of, he says, to avoid people getting killed by a mass shooter. Simply throwing our hands up and saying nothing will work is unacceptable.
I couldn’t agree more.
On the subject of mental health: Yes, mental health is an issue. It’s an important issue. Anyone dismissing it is misguided. But when the Republican party has tried for years to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid — the single largest provider of mental health services — it’s difficult to believe their heart is really in the battle to improve the mental health of would-be mass shooters.
Even having said that, I and most lefties will concede that addressing mental health is important here. But why can’t mental health issues be part of a broader look at everything we could possibly do to solve this problem? Background checks, education, social help for people who feel isolated or bullied? Maybe more guns in select hands would help; I’m willing to hear you out on that — because I’m willing to listen to any well-meaning idea that might prevent these tragedies. Why? I’m asking sincerely.
Keep this in mind: Every time you watch news footage of a mass shooting, it probably makes you sad. It’s hard to watch. It’s sucks. But then you get to turn the television off and go back to your life.
Back in El Paso, in Dayton, in Parkland, in Sandy Hook, in Las Vegas, there are people dealing with the worst, most vile thing imaginable. If we continue to collectively do nothing but bicker, it will eventually get to all of us in ways that can’t be turned away from.
If we do nothing, some day it will be our turn. When that happens, how will you feel about the fact that we’ve done almost nothing to prevent further tragedy? How will you feel about writing it off as a mere mental health issue?
I want to reprint a portion of the column I wrote in the wake of the Parkland shooting. This is from Feb. 25, 2018. I’m referring to a conversation I had with my son as we watched a CNN town hall.
He doesn’t understand why we can’t at least try some stuff, like better background checks or banning “bump stocks” or raising the legal age for gun purchases. He knows none of these things will solve the problem, but they could help, and why isn’t that enough?
He wants gun owners to be able to keep their guns, but doesn’t understand why their desire to keep their rights unchanged is more important than the horrors faced by grieving families holding teenaged corpses.
He doesn’t understand how a body count can continue to rise — in a way that is unique among all countries — and the rationale for doing nothing is based on the wisdom of men who, not in a million years, would have imagined today’s status quo; the Founding Fathers were wise, but they weren’t clairvoyant.
He fails to see how the online opinion of a person who rarely uses the gun in their closet should be given as much weight as the families who are burying their children, attending the funerals of other children, and wondering what the hell we’re doing here. And he can’t understand why gun-rights supporters can look at this situation and either see nothing that can be fixed, or write it all off as a “mental health issue.” He doesn’t understand why it didn’t end with Columbine, why it didn’t end with Sandy Hook, why it didn’t end with Virginia Tech.