Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Texas. Those names all now evoke the horror of mass shootings that are all too common in the United States. They also invoke memories of the usual political response: Democrats call for action, Republicans say it is not appropriate to “politicize” the tragedy, and weeks and months pass with nothing accomplished, until the process repeats itself in the next horrifying incident.
Americans Against Gun Violence, an organization formed to put political pressure and increase public awareness of the issues around the needless death and injury caused by the presence of so many, and so much more lethal guns in our country, held its first annual banquet on October 22, just after the Las Vegas massacre, and just before the Sutherland massacre. President of the organization, Dr. Bill Durston, kicked off the event, which was shared with Physicians for Social Responsibility, and introduced the keynote speaker, Josh Sugarman, author of Every Handgun is Aimed at You: The Case for Banning Handguns.
Sugarman noted that lots of attention is drawn to mass shootings, like the recent Las Vegas incident, but daily deaths from guns is even worse. One hundred people on average die each day from guns in America. What is behind this? The gun industry. They are at heart a consumer product business, with marketing plans to increase their profits, just like the automobile industry, consumer electronics, restaurants and food production—the difference is they are the only product not regulated by the government!
When a shooting occurs, one of the first questions the media and law enforcement asks is what was the motive. Why would someone get a hotel room to be a sniper at a concert, why would someone walk into a church intent on murdering everyone, why would someone ambush a cop, kill their spouse and family, shoot up a schoolyard, or assassinate a public figure? But what does that really matter in the end? The fact is these people, whatever their reasons, have the ability to build an arsenal. And they have access to military and law enforcement-grade weapons to accomplish it. Yes, there are some restrictions on the level of weapons—for example, a military automatic weapon can fire multiple rounds by just holding down the trigger. For the consumer-available weapons, the shooter must pull the trigger for each round. But they can still shoot in very rapid succession, making such guns effectively the same as a military machine gun.
The industry sells its product primarily to white males, of whom only 33% are currently gun owners. And that market is aging and dying off, with fewer new customers entering the market. That puts pressure on them to continue to resell their products to their primary market, by introducing ever more powerful and “efficient” guns, while stoking fears that a mass confiscation is just around the corner, and they need to stock up now. A phenomenon seen when either a liberal politician is elected, (President Obama’s election, or just the likelihood of Hillary Clinton’s election, for example) or when another mass shooting occurs, is a marked increase in gun sales, out of fear that new laws are on the way. The industry is also trying to expand their market beyond the white male demographic, finding ways to appeal to women, children, African Americans, and Latinos as a new customer base. They want diversity, not just “stale, male and pale.” (Quote from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry’s trade organization, about the demographic they want to change.)
And after every new incident, not only do we hear the chorus of “it’s not the time to politicize this tragedy,” but we are also told gun control doesn’t work, if you restrict guns only criminals will have them, the only solution to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, the real problem isn’t guns but mental illness, etc. Sugarman stated that it is time we recognize that (to paraphrase the Bill Clinton presidential campaign) It’s the gun, stupid!
While other nations react to gun violence by finding solutions—Australia and the United Kingdom are notable success stories—the National Rifle Association (NRA) insists that we need more guns. And the politicians who follow their lead (mostly Republicans, but Democrats are not always innocent) go along, failing to pass meaningful laws, and even opening the current restrictions even further.
Sugarman said that states with high gun ownership have higher gun deaths, including accidental shootings and suicides, while states with stronger gun control laws have lower overall rates of homicide (and not just from guns!) California is a good success story, but national laws are far more important. The NRA likes to tell everyone to look at Chicago. “They have strong gun laws, yet the gun violence rate is one of the worst.” While that is untrue on the face of it (many other states and cities have much stronger gun laws), even if Chicago had California-like restrictions, guns can be easily brought in from many neighboring states, like Indiana, that have very loose gun laws.
The bottom line is that lots of guns means lots of gun injuries and deaths. Dividing people into “good” ones who can get a gun and “bad” ones who shouldn’t, just doesn’t work. Many of the guns out there—handguns, assault rifles, automatic weapons—are designed specifically for killing people, and that is what they do, whether by intention, accident, or suicide.
But the public is way ahead of lawmakers in supporting change, and have found some success in a few places, like California. But the industry is not sitting still. The bill to legalize silencers and allow open-carry laws to be valid across state lines is still out there waiting to be passed by Congress. And the much ballyhooed idea of banning bump stocks has gone nowhere, despite the seeming universal openness to the idea, by even the NRA. California’s Dianne Feinstein is reintroducing an assault weapon restriction bill, but it is generally considered dead on arrival. But hey, it’s worth a try, right?
Meanwhile, America is held hostage by a fading industry, said Sugarman. While two-thirds of Americans live in gun-free homes, and only 1.5% of the population belongs to the NRA, they somehow exert more control over Congress than the will of the people. Sugarman said we need to focus on solutions, not slogans that will sell. Gun violence is a preventable epidemic, he said, with 33,000 annual deaths of Americans. We need to ask ourselves, are we doing everything in our power to prevent gun violence?
Learn more about Americans Against Gun Violence at aagunv.org.
Listen to Josh Sugarman on CapRadio.org on Insight from November 1.
Read a piece on recent gun violence written by Bill Durston, reprinted on this website: The Air Force is Not the Problem, A Good Guy With a Gun is Not the Solution