What exactly would it take for the people of the United States to come together and agree that maybe buying guns should be just a little bit harder to do? The tragedy of Sandy Hook seemed almost like a cartoonishly evil hypothetical answer to that kind of question. Maybe, you might have said, if a classroom full of kindergartners was shot to death, that would be enough for people to agree that some limits on gun ownership wouldn’t be totally crazy. But, of course, it wasn’t.
You could say it was enough for nearly three-quarters of Americans to agree that private gun sales and sales at gun shows should be required by law, but for some reason it wasn’t enough for the Senate to pass a bill that would actually make that happen.
Now comes another tragedy: not as horrific as Sandy Hook, but similarly shocking in its details. A nine year old girl accidentally killed her shooting instructor with a fully automatic Uzi earlier this month. This happened at a shooting range with every safety precaution in place that any gun advocate would claim is essential when handling firearms.
An image from moments before the accident shows the instructor and his tiny student wearing the proper ear and eye protection with the weapon pointed, correctly, downrange. But a man still died. And a little girl somehow has to find the strength to keep on living her life after killing a grown man. But of course this incident isn’t nearly enough to convince anyone that there’s a chance there’s something inherently dangerous about guns.
People will continue to claim guns are a piece of machinery that has its risks like any other, but this argument doesn’t hold much water. I mean, take a look at this bulldozer. There’s a piece of machinery. The thing weighs 229,848 pounds. Intimidating, right? But guess what: that bulldozer is designed to move some serious dirt around, not kill people. Guns were conceived, designed and sold specifically to put holes through living things to make them not live anymore. It’s not a piece of machinery that’s potentially dangerous; it’s a piece of machinery intended to deliver danger faster than the speed of sound. Even the National Rifle Association (NRA) should agree that nine-year-old girls have no business handling automatic weapons.
But whether it’s the lobbying of the NRA, people believing their right to hunt is greater than others’ right to live, or just plain old inertia, it seems really unlikely that any single event a la the Port Arthur massacre in Australia will jolt this country towards a productive conversation about gun control. Why am I so pessimistic? Because we’ve been unsuccessfully trying to get the same meager measures passed since the ’60s.
Check out Lyndon Johnson’s comments on a bill in 1967 that came in the wake of the shooting at the University of Texas. If you’re under the impression that mass shootings are distinctly a 21st Century phenomenon, then you might be surprised to learn that Charles Whitman climbed to the top of a 307 foot tower on the UT campus and killed 13 people while wounding 31 others way back in 1966. LBJ thought something should be done about it.
Using the period’s labels for the mentally ill and worried about the time’s equivalent of the Internet, President Johnson wrote: “There is no excuse,” for selling guns to “hardened criminals” and “mental defectives.” He backed a bill that would “limit out-of-state purchases and interstate mail order sales of firearms.” Sound familiar? It should; it’s basically the same bill, introduced in 2013, that three-quarters of the country supported. The one that didn’t get passed.
Of the failed 2013 bill, President Obama said: “We’re talking about convicted felons, people convicted of domestic violence, people with severe mental illness.” He said all the bill did was “extend the same background check rules that already apply to guns purchased from a dealer to guns purchased at gun shows or over the Internet.”
Both bills failed. Now, if LBJ’s bill passed would it have prevented Sandy Hook? If Obama’s passed, would that shooting instructor still be alive? No one knows for sure, but probably not. The guns used at Sandy Hook were stolen from a gun owner operating within the law. The Uzi at that range was not purchased by someone with a mental illness over the internet. But in both cases, it is undeniable that guns were used to kill innocent people.
Furthermore, these outrageous instances should be enough to call attention to the fact that 30 people are shot and murdered every day in the United States. If these bizarre, unbelievable stories aren’t enough to convince people that guns are something we should be making a little harder to get, then what will be? Let’s hope that when another basically identical gun control law comes up fifty years from now, it will gain a little more traction in the legislature.