It has been a long time since the first postal worker went postal back in 1983. Since then, America has endured countless other mass shootings. But the tragedy at Newtown, Conn., was supposed to change everything.
We collectively declared that the horror of innocent children being gunned down in cold blood was a game-changer. A troubled son shooting his mother to death in her bed and then rampaging through an elementary school was our national wake-up call. Finally, we told each other, it was time for America to do something about its gun problem!
It would have been a glorious homage to the Newtown victims. Sorry to say, however, those 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School died needlessly. So did victim No. 1, Nancy Lanza, the mother of the shooter.
Since that awful day in Connecticut on Dec. 14, special interest groups have drawn lines in the sand, politicians have made declarations and Vice President Joe Biden held some meetings where some of the same old suggestions popped up. We have argued about Second Amendment rights, semi-automatic rifles, the number of bullets in magazine clips, background checks, gun show sales and how the National Rifle Association must be to blame for the whole rotten mess.
In reality, it is the ubiquitous handgun that does most of the killing in this country, but few are talking about that. And it is not the vast majority of gun owners who dutifully follow the law and register their guns (and maybe belongs to the NRA) that are the problem. It is the criminal element and the mentally ill who most often perpetrate gun violence.
Please, let’s get it straight who the real enemy is and focus on what to do about them!
It makes me incredibly sad as I make my daily check at a web portal set up by the online news site Slate and co-managed by a group called @GunDeaths. The editors readily admit that their U.S. murder data is incomplete because, in a country as big as ours, it is not easy to contemporaneously register every single death. So they augment their own reporting with verifiable death information the public sends in. The site’s best calculation concludes that since the Newtown massacre, more than 1,480 Americans have died by gun violence.
At my Friday column deadline, the heavily populated state of California led the way with more than 146 people murdered in the seven weeks since the Newtown tragedy. About a dozen of them were children.
In Texas, there were 110 gun deaths. Florida was close behind with 90. The city of Chicago has become a virtual killing field, with at least 53 recent gun deaths, despite having one of the country’s most restrictive set of gun laws. Illinois’ statewide gun death total since Newtown is 77.
Missouri counted nearly 51 people, and New York had 42 killed by guns. In New Mexico, the list reflected another mass shooting by a troubled son who gunned down both his parents and three siblings. That brought the death toll in the Land of Enchantment to at least 15 since the elementary school shooting in Connecticut that was supposed to change everything.
Think of it: More than 1,480 bullet-ridden bodies stacked up at morgues across the country. More than 1,480 funerals, countless thousands of family members forced to join the ranks of grief. At this pace, 2013’s tally will soon surpass the number of people who died in the terrorist acts of Sept. 11. We will count more dead Americans right here at home this year than all the U.S. military members who lost their lives in the war in Iraq or Afghanistan.
How many more will die before we can agree on concrete solutions?
As we dither and do nothing, North Carolina has seen 58 gun-related deaths since Newtown. Georgia reported 55 dead. Louisiana had 53, Colorado 33, Michigan 46, Oklahoma 37, Indiana 37, Arizona 29, Washington state 22 ... the sorrowful list goes on and on, and continues to grow at a steady gallop.
Perhaps we should take a cue from Australia, where plenty of people still have guns. In 1996, after a massacre in which 35 people died, swift action was taken. The most dangerous rifles and shotguns were outlawed, and the government launched a buyback program of those banned firearms. Over the next decade, gun-related homicides fell by 59 percent and the suicide rate fell by 65 percent. A coincidence? Maybe.
I don’t hear much talk about cutting off the criminal’s favorite ammunition source — the Internet — or more closely regulating the sale of bullets so that only the most demonstrably responsible gun owners could buy them.
With 311 million guns in America, maybe a limit on the number of new guns that could be imported or manufactured here would be in order. And, my personal favorite: Let’s pass an ironclad national law that any criminal using a gun in the commission of a crime gets an automatic extra 10 years tacked onto their sentence. No questions, no leniency. This tactic protects honorable gun owners and ensures both the criminal and their confiscated gun are off the streets for a long time.
In the meantime, I challenge every newspaper in America to dedicate a daily front page spot to the growing gun death toll tally — complete with pictures of the dead children caught up in our adult madness. Every radio station and evening newscast should dedicate time to this, too.
It’s easy in our busy lives to overlook the carnage — but not if it’s human toll is staring us in the face every day. We have to keep the dialogue alive if we ever hope to find real solutions.