“How many more, Lord, how many more?”
This is the agonizing question I ask myself, sitting here in my once-comfortable chair that grows increasingly uncomfortable with each report of another mass shooting — at a theater, a church, a school, a military recruiting office, a military base, or some other public venue where the norm used to be expectations of safety, and little reason to fear that death or disfigurement are just one crazed or angry gunman away. And, of course, that gunman is armed to the teeth.
Yes, this is the “new normal” in the heavily armed, intensely divided un-United States of America, where buying guns and ammunition is not much more cumbersome than buying a head of lettuce.
The latest mass shooting — which will, no doubt, soon be eclipsed by the next one — happened in Lafayette, La., this week. According to Associated Press accounts, a 59-year-old man — John Russel Houser — allegedly stood up about 20 minutes into the movie, “Trainwreck,” and fired “first at two people sitting in front of him, then aimed his handgun at others.”
Police, the report said, found 13 shell casings at the scene inside the theater. When Houser was done, he had allegedly killed two members of the movie audience, wounded nine others and shot and killed himself.
According to news reports, the silent gunman was “so mentally ill and violent that years ago, his wife hid his guns, and his family had him hospitalized against his will before obtaining a court order to keep him away” from them.
Also this week, jurors in Colorado were deciding the fate of the convicted gunman who opened fire at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater three years ago, killing 12 people and wounding 70 others, while — back East — family members, friends and co-workers were still reeling from the tragic shootings at military installations in Chattanooga, Tenn., that left four Marines and a Navy sailor dead.
Last month, an apparently racist gunman shot and killed nine African Americans during an evening Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, S.C.
Going back a little, there is Columbine, Newtown, Blacksburg, Washington, D.C., Red Lake Indian Reservation, Minn., Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Santee, Calif., Meridian, Miss., Jonesboro, Ark., Forth Worth and Fort Hood, Texas, Oakland, Calif … The list goes on and on. The American landscape is littered with memorials to gun violence and our ever-escalating personal arms race — from sea to shining sea.
Irony of ironies: Just hours before the shootings this week at the movie house in Lafayette, President Barack Obama told a BBC interviewer the issue that has frustrated him most during his presidency has been an inability to break through legislators’ repeated roadblocks to limiting access to arms, despite repeated massacres during his tenure.
According to one news report, he “contrasted the numbers of Americans killed in terrorist attacks since 9/11 with the near-routine killings by domestic shooters, highlighting a huge discrepancy in the figures. “If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism,” he told the BBC, “it’s less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it’s in the tens of thousands.
“And for us not to be able to resolve that issue has been something that is distressing,” he said. “But it is not something that I intend to stop working on in the remaining 18 months (of his presidency.)”
A news report of the BBC interview points out that, “under the U.S. Constitution, every American is entitled to ‘keep and bear arms’ — a tenet jealously guarded by millions of law-abiding gun owners as a symbol of liberty and a foil against tyrannical government.” The article said the political clout of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the gun lobby on Capitol Hill is so strong that proposed legislation “to mandate background checks for all gun sales — not just those at federally licensed gun shops –” has never cleared the Senate.
Such checks could possibly have prevented several of the gunmen in recent mass shootings from legally acquiring the weapons they used to destroy lives, while shattering the social compact. Several of them had histories, or strong indications, of mental illness in their backgrounds. A meaningful background check might have foiled their wicked plans, or at least, made them much more difficult to carry out.
Further complicating matters is the voodoo mathematics of many proponents of unfettered gun ownership and use. They argue that, if more people were armed in more places (schools, churches, bars, restaurants, movie theaters, ballparks and the like,) then we’d see fewer mass killings.
Imagine what would likely have happened earlier this week in that Lafayette, La., movie theater if two dozen other people in the audience were armed when Houser allegedly got up and started shooting. What happened during the legendary gunfight at the OK Corral would have looked like a church picnic in comparison. The death toll could have been mind-boggling.
A new study, according to recent news reports, “throws cold water on the idea that a well-armed populace deters criminals or prevents murders. Instead,” Yahoo News reported, based on the study’s results, “higher ownership of guns in a state is linked to more firearm robberies, more firearm assaults and more homicide in general.”
The report quotes researcher Michael Monuteaux, an epidemiologist and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, as saying: “We found no support for the hypothesis that owning more guns leads to a drop or a reduction in violent crime. Instead, we found the opposite.”
According to the study, firearm assaults were 6.8 times more common in states with the most guns, versus states with the least. “Firearm robbery increased with every increase in gun ownership, except in the very highest quintile of gun-owning states (the difference in that cluster was not statistically significant),” Yahoo News says of the study’s results. “Firearm homicide was 2.8 times more common in states with the most guns, versus states with the least.”
The study points out, however, that while the research shows that more guns are linked to more gun crime and overall homicide, it does not prove that access to guns alone directly causes “this criminal uptick.”
But researcher David Hemenway, the director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, said: “This study suggests that it is really hard to find evidence that where there are more guns, there are less crimes, but you can easily find evidence that where there are a lot more guns, there are a lot more crimes.”
Even though such studies are not likely to convince those who want no limits on gun ownership, whatsoever, to change their minds, the staggering truth is that we must try even harder.
Because: We can’t shoot our way out of this horrible mess.