Monday, October 5, 2015

After the Oregon Shootings: The Sin of Doing Nothing

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
--Edmund Burke

What’s worse? 

Fact: nine people died in a mass shooting on October 1st at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.  Fact: in the past 1,000 days in the United States, there have been 994 mass shootings, with 1,260 deaths and 3,606 injuries.  (“Mass shooting” defined as four or more people shot at one event:  Fact: Americans are 4.4 percent of the world’s population and possess more than half of the 644 million civilian owned guns in the world. Fact: every single time a tragedy like Umpqua happens, America’s leaders and citizens are unable to do anything beyond well intentioned promises to hold the victims and their loved ones in “our thoughts and prayers”.

I vote for this last fact as the biggest tragedy of all.

When it comes to guns and gun violence, America, it seems, is impotent to change laws, change hearts, or stop the carnage. A story breaks about another mass shooting: Sandy Hook, Charleston, Oregon. It dominates the news cycle for a few days or weeks.  Politicians stake out their ideological turf, pontificate, and then move on. And us citizens, in what in any other country would be judged a public health epidemic at best, a national emergency at worst: we are left with nothing but our fears, frustrations and sadness and more obituaries in the newspaper.

I don’t care if you are right wing or left wing, liberal or conservative, a gun owner or a gun opponent: I believe most Americans--we know that something is very, very wrong. That collectively we must act.  That to do otherwise, to accept as a given, or “normal”, all the deaths and all the brokenhearted families and shattered communities: this feels evil somehow, a national sin.

So if we are to name the facts, we also need to name some of the myths in the gun debate, the tropes and clichés we tell ourselves to justify our inaction.  

Myth: Gun owners oppose any new gun control measures.  The truth? A majority of gun owners favor strengthened national background checks. The truth? The overwhelming majority of gun owners are safe, sane and responsible women and men who are wise and prudent in their care taking of firearms.     

Myth: Non gun owners (like me) want the government to take away the guns from law abiding citizens. The truth? Folks like me just want to balance the second amendment right to bear arms, with a citizen’s right (my right) to public safety. I want to know that some trustworthy entity is in control of just who can own a firearm. Is that really so unreasonable?  

Myth: Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. The truth: people with guns actually do kill people. These killers may be mentally deranged or criminals, but they are also domestic abusers who shoot their spouses; kids in homes who play with a gun and injure or kill a playmate; folks struggling with suicidal thoughts who kill themselves. The truth? All people who want a gun should not automatically or easily be able to obtain a gun. Period.  Why is this goal so hard to agree and then act upon?

Myth: Gun ownership makes us all safer.  The truth?  America is number one, worldwide, in total number of guns owned, so you’d think we’d be last in gun violence. According to an October 2012 Washington Post article, which cites statistics from the United Nations and the Small Arms Survey, the United States has the highest rate of firearm related murders of all developed countries.  

Myth: when it comes to gun violence we can’t do anything.  This is the worst myth of all.  Uncle Sam may be unwilling to pass new gun control measures, but the states are stepping up through new laws and ballot initiatives.  Especially since the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, many states have passed and implemented new, reasonable, widely embraced gun control laws.             

Here’s the truth. We can do something. We must do something. Umpqua could easily have been Boston or Framingham or Marlborough or Millis.  Gun owners, gun control advocates: the truth is that we must all work together to change things.  Otherwise it’s only a matter of time before the next Oregon. 

My thoughts and prayers? That God may help us all, to do something, anything, NOW.


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