A mass shooting at a Florida high school yesterday left at least 17 dead and many more wounded. The attacker was a nineteen-year-old expelled student who used a AR-15 type rifle (semi-automatic weapon of war) to inflict mass casualties.
This was the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook, but it was also the eighteenth school shooting so far this year. Such shootings have become sadly and uniquely commonplace in America in the last few decades. Other countries have similar levels of mental illness, similar levels of poverty, similar levels of crime. But we are unique in two respects. We have more gun deaths per population than any other “western” nation by far. And we have more guns per person and almost unfettered access to guns than any other nation.
Anyone in America can get a gun at almost any time. Weekend gun shows in certain states don’t require background checks of any kind, nor do sales among private individuals. Treating instruments of death in such a lax way is preposterous and profoundly irresponsible. Yet a minority of loud people and a few well-funded organizations like the NRA have kept our nation from any responsible control of guns, especially weapons of war like the AR-15. The sensible regulation of guns is entirely constitutional, as the Supreme Court has ruled in recent years. So why have we made no progress? The answer is simple. Greed and fear.
The arguments often made for easy access to weapons of war are entirely based on fear. Fear of a home invasion. Fear of being assaulted or robbed. Fear of government tyranny. The folks who worship and fetishize guns project a facade of toughness and hyper masculinity, but they are actually some of the most frightened, paranoid people among us. Much of their fear is stoked by right wing media, who make it seem like violence is epidemic and families are being robbed and murdered (by immigrants and non-whites) constantly.
But the well-studied and documented fact remains that a gun owner is far more likely to suffer negative consequences from owning that gun than from being harmed by anyone else’s gun. It’s also a statistical fact that states with higher gun ownership rates have higher rates of gun violence. Who does the false narrative of widespread violence serve? The gun makers. The more frightened the populace, the more guns they sell. It’s a simple equation. Spread fear, sow paranoia, and sell more guns.
The true mission of the NRA, to support the gun industry, is hidden behind a false front of libertarian ideology. When business people invoke the term “libertarian” they are usually appropriating it in service of their greed. They want to be “free” to pollute or poison or deplete or waste or…sell weapons of war to our frightened neighbors. And often our politicians are all too happy to prostitute themselves to groups like the NRA for campaign cash.
John Faso took $5,950 from the NRA in the 2016 election cycle and was one of the architects of the CCRA, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which allows anyone from a state where carrying a concealed weapon is legal to carry that weapon in a state where it would otherwise be illegal. So Faso’s bill effectively stops individual states (like his home state of New York) from enforcing their gun laws on visitors from lax states. The law means more guns moving across state lines, which generally translates into more guns.
We don’t need more guns. And we desperately need common-sense gun regulations like universal background checks and a ban on semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15. Faso and his party hold their power by fear-mongering, appealing to supporters that are as passionate about guns as they are frightened about having to “protect themselves” from any number of phony threats. But they are a minority, and sensible gun control should be a winning issue in the 2018 midterms. The lesson here for our candidates is don’t be afraid…of the NRA or anything else.