How many people have to be killed by people with guns in order for us as a nation to do something about it?
We ask this question every time there’s a shooting that interrupts the TV (and we should be asking that question after every shooting, broadcast or not), and all we seem to do is shake our heads, offer “thoughts and prayers,” and move on. Oh, and in the height of a political campaign, we ask the candidates what they think as if they will enlighten us with something other than “thoughts and prayers.”
The standard response to “What will it take?” has always been, “Well, it’s complicated….” No, actually, it’s not. Make it illegal to own a military-style weapon the same way it’s illegal to own a machine gun or a howitzer or a bazooka or a functioning Sherman tank. Require anyone who owns a firearm to be licensed and carry liability insurance the same way we require people who own cars to be licensed and insured, and make it as hard to get a gun permit as it is for black people to register to vote in Alabama or a woman to get an abortion in Texas.
The easiest ways to curb gun violence is to shame the gun culture into submission. It’s worked before; look at how public attitudes have changed about cigarette smoking in the last twenty years. All we have to do is make it as socially unacceptable to carry a gun in public as it is to smoke a cigarette. Force the gun manufacturers to run ads the same way tobacco companies have to run public service spots on the dangers of smoking. Make them put huge warning labels on their products, and tax the hell out of them so that a box of bullets costs as much as a printer cartridge for your average Epson. None of these will infringe upon the Second Amendment any more than laws on pornography, libel, or slander infringe upon the First.
None of these measures will put an immediate end to gun violence any more than Prohibition put an end to alcohol abuse or the civil rights laws ended discrimination. We have never been able to change our morals by legislation. What we have to change is whether or not we as a society will accept it as a part of our civilization. But as long as there are those among us who can defend the rights of people to use a weapon of war to kill children and policemen and threaten the careers of the elected representatives who stand up to them, we will be seeing this happen again and again, and we’ll still be asking the same question.