Today is the second anniversary of the mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, in which six people lost their lives and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head. In the intervening years we have seen similar shootings at an Oakland, California college, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and, most horrifically, a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school. Sadly, the actual list is far too long for me to recount – the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence lists over 70 mass shootings since Tucson, and that only tells a small part of the story. Every day in the United States, gunfire kills 87 people – 8 of them children, 5 of those murder. That’s over 100 Newtowns every year, and most of us don’t even notice it.
After the Newtown shooting last month several gun control opponents cited a mass stabbing in China, correctly pointing out that no amount of gun control could not prevent violence or keep someone whose heart is bent on mayhem from committing it. In doing so, they made the case for gun control far more effectively than I could have, because of the 22 children stabbed in that assault, not one died.
Guns do not cause violence, it is true – but they make it far more deadly and dangerous. Suicides attempted with guns do not allow for second thoughts. Violence committed with guns – especially with automatic and semi-automatic weapons – kills. Too often it kills the innocent. I understand the desire for freedom, for protection, for recreation. I understand that the overwhelming majority of gun owners are decent, law abiding people. But 2000 dead children every year is too high a price to pay.
It is also true that gun bans will not by themselves immediately fix the problem. Our laws have been so lax, for so long, that the guns are readily available for those who would obtain them illegally. Buy back programs help, but it will take a long time to solve the problem we have created for ourselves. In the meantime, licensing can help, waiting periods and background checks can help, keeping the most dangerous guns limited to sporting facilities can help, and education can help.
Tom Paxton often writes what he calls “short shelf life songs” – songs in response to world events that he doesn’t expect to be relevant once the news cycle has shifted. Two years ago he wrote “What If, No Matter” in response to the shooting in Tucson. Sadly, the song remains all too relevant.