Where is the outrage? A little over a month has passed since the October 1st Las Vegas massacre, and already, media outlets have buried updates about the shooting on their websites and newspapers. Take a tour of the major sources (NYT, WSJ, CNN, Fox, MSNBC). You will be hard-pressed to find any news, and most importantly, outrage, about one of the worst tragedies in American history (58 dead, 546 injured). The calls to action have grown increasingly quiet. The tacit acceptance has become progressively apparent.
So apparent, in fact, that when the First Baptist Church shooting occurred on Sunday, November 5th, the overwhelming response was almost muted. President Trump claimed that “mental health is the problem here” on his Twitter account. He even expressed thanks that someone else had a gun and was shooting in the opposite direction. Both statements downplayed the fact that the controls failed in a federal database when the Air Force did not enter the gunman’s criminal record, which could have prevented his gun purchases. They also seemed to undermine the fact that 26 people died, many of them women and children.
This type of reaction is not new, unfortunately. If 20 children can be gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 without action, there is little reason to think any gun-related atrocity will drive change now. Review this timeline of the deadliest mass shootings in America, and try to formulate an argument that gun control is not an issue worth addressing (note: it still needs to be updated to include the most recent First Baptist Church shooting). Also, review the number of gun-related deaths in Chicago from the beginning of the year to the publication date of this article (spoiler: 527 gun-related homicides). And where do most of Chicago’s guns come from? The great state of Indiana. Vice President Mike Pence’s home state has some of the weakest gun laws in the country (no permit or license required for gun purchases). The lax laws from Illinois’ neighbor has undoubtedly helped spur Chicago’s monthly gun violence murder rate to over 50 deaths per month. At that pace, Chicago is on track for almost 12 separate Las Vegas massacres per year. Rarely does this pervasive violence by firearm garner any media attention. Gun violence is an indisputable endemic problem in the United States, and it is sheer negligence on the part of Senators and Congressmen not to implement reasonable controls immediately.
In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, the NRA agreed to regulate bump stocks. Even though the most notoriously resistant lobbying group actually agreed to consider supporting some regulation on guns, lawmakers have failed to act. Of course, it did not help when the NRA clarified their position when advocating that the Trump administration, not Congress, should regulate the devices. Regulations, however, could be removed by a future administration, and they would not have the same force and effect of a law passed by Congress and signed by the President. Trump has already illustrated how easy it is for an administration to roll back the efforts of its predecessor. Enough playing around. People are dying from these inherently deadly devices that continue to proliferate in a lightly controlled market.
Most Americans agree that guns should be regulated more than they are today (Pew Research). While nobody should advocate confiscating all existing guns and/or banning them outright (for there are actually more guns than people in America), it should not be easier to own a gun than it is to obtain a driver’s license. Most people would probably agree that a car is not an inherently dangerous device. Its purpose is to provide mobility, whereas guns are intended to eject lethal force. Nonetheless, in most states, it is harder to obtain a driver’s license than it is to buy a gun (and it’s harder to get a passport, cold medicine such as Sudafed, and a pet dog).
Given the disparate treatment of gun regulation in most states, there is a strong case for a reasonable federal law to set minimum standards and achieve consistency. Texas law, for example, does not require a background check prior to the transfer of a firearm between unlicensed individuals. In addition, less than a dozen states require registration of some or all firearms. If you purchase Sudafed, however, you will have to log personal information in a database for two years. Yet buying a gun in Nevada can be done without first obtaining a license, and you’re not required to register the weapon once you own it. Nevada does not even limit the number of weapons a gun enthusiast can purchase, permitting people like the Las Vegas shooter to stockpile enough weaponry for a militia.
Speaking of militias, the Second Amendment states the following: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” For years, courts viewed the “militia clause” as prominent and the “bear arms” clause subordinate. In essence, state militias had the right to bear arms, but individuals did not. When the NRA changed its platform in the late 1970s, there was an enormous effort to reverse this jurisprudence and interpretation. Aided by the rise of the new right and the ascent of Ronald Reagan and senators like Orrin Hatch (Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee – important for confirming Justices to the Supreme Court), the NRA successfully overturned years of case law. It was an assault on all fronts, including in conservative legal academic circles, where the NRA commissioned studies to support its overarching conclusion: the Second Amendment was intended as an individual right of American citizens to bear arms. This culminated in the District of Columbia v. Heller landmark decision in 2008, where Justice Scalia (the opinion’s author) held that a complete prohibition on handguns is invalid because they are the most popular weapon chosen by Americans for self-defense.
Given this case law and history, nobody should advocate confiscating all guns. Aside from the logistical nightmare, gun ownership is such an entrenched American “right” at this point that it would be politically (and probably constitutionally) unfeasible. But gun owners and advocates need to remember: we no longer live on the frontier. Sensible regulation is necessary to help ensure the safety of anyone going to a concert, classroom, or church. The fact we even need to think twice before entering the public realm for fear of gun violence should be enough to convince lawmakers to pass legislation. Even if it only covers the basics – background checks, training, bans on assault weapons and bump stocks – it would go a long way toward preventing or at least mitigating gun violence on a mass scale.
In a few weeks, this most recent mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Texas will be an afterthought. The grieving process will have ended, allowing Americans to ignore the problem until the next murderous event, which may be on an even grander scale. Even if you disagree there is a gun problem, you cannot deny the fact there is a serious policy problem, whether it’s related to mental health, access controls, inequality, plight of the white rural male (almost all gunmen are men), or radicalism on social media. Some policy solution must be implemented, even if it’s as basic as promoting mental health and regulating bump stocks. For the alternative is to continue down the current regulatory path of legislative impasse and more mass shootings. Where is the outrage there?