By Hugh Bowden
Just days ago, back-to-back shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, left 31 dead and 50 or more people wounded. President Donald Trump and many of his fellow Republicans sought to blame anything and everything except unrestrained access to the weapons used in committing such violence to other human beings. As of Aug. 5, the United States has seen 33,237 shooting incidents, resulting in 8,796 gun deaths and 17,480 injuries so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The Small Arms Survey estimated in 2017 that American civilians possessed more than 393 million firearms — 120 firearms for every 100 persons. War-torn Yemen ranks second with about 53 firearms per 100 persons. Contrast those numbers with the claim by the National Rifle Association and its legion of followers that the presence of more guns, in school classrooms and other public places, will make us safer. If that claim is true, the United States already should be the safest country in the world. So what’s gone wrong?
Even in the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary, Trump and most Republicans in Congress continue to cling to some version of the shopworn cliché that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” So let’s blame mental illness, violent video games or anything else we can find to argue that the weapon used is simply not a factor. That’s exactly what they do and it is absolute nonsense.
Trump, who has built his presidency on racism, bigotry and division, has all but given white supremacists permission to do whatever they want to advance their whites-only cause. And they’ve responded, as the manifesto published by the El Paso shooter makes clear. Two days after that shooting, our racist president, a staunch supporter of the NRA, delivered a hypocritical address to the nation trying — unsuccessfully — to walk back his own contributions to the racial division and accompanying gun violence that afflict our country. It was a pathetic and transparent performance: a president who has devoted his entire time in office to creating racial and economic divisions among Americans now pretending that he’s suddenly come to his senses.
Trump’s occasional mouthpiece, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, followed up Trump’s speech with a typical Republican response in a television appearance. “I think we all agree that sick people who are intent on doing things like this should not be able to buy guns legally,” he said. “The challenge, of course, is trying to identify who is sick when they try and buy their weapons, and that’s the type of discussion we have to have.” Clearly good old Mick isn’t the least concerned with the fact that weapons of warfare were readily available to individuals, many of whom have never been diagnosed with a mental illness, who have perpetuated the mass shootings across this country.
As the American Psychological Association asserts, “Routinely blaming mass shootings on mental illness is unfounded and stigmatizing. The rates of mental illness are roughly the same around the world, yet other countries are not experiencing these traumatic events as often as we face them.” Dr. Seth Trueger, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Northwestern University, echoed that view in a Time magazine interview. “Other countries have the same kinds of mental health issues we have, the same kind of violent video games we have, the same religiosity that we have. All that stuff is just a distraction” from the need for better gun control, he says.
What is needed is so obvious that it’s ridiculous. Remove the access to the kinds of weapons that are designed only to kill people in warfare, and the high-capacity magazines that allow a shooter to fire as many as 100 bullets in seconds without any interruption, and you would see an immediate decrease in the number of injuries and deaths by firearms in this country. There are no other weapons in existence that allow someone bent on killing to unleash a deadly onslaught without engaging in a face-to-face confrontation with his or her target. But don’t expect Trump or Republicans or the millions of firearms owners who support the gun industry and the NRA to acknowledge such a thing.
There is no reason in the world why American civilians should have access to firearms designed solely for warfare or weapons that can fire dozens upon dozens of bullets as fast as they can pull the trigger. The manufacture of such weapons should be closely regulated and the distribution and availability of such weapons should be limited only to legitimate military or law enforcement entities. Laws should be enacted requiring that, from now on, Americans found to be already in possession of such weapons should relinquish them or face criminal prosecution. Thorough background checks should be required of every single American civilian who seeks to purchase a firearm — with no exceptions. High-capacity magazines should be banned for all civilian firearms.
If there’s an illness involved in all of this gun violence that afflicts our nation, it is the sickness of all those who have a love affair with guns that’s so intense that they can’t imagine not having access to any sort of weapon that the gun industry can produce. There’s not an American alive who needs an assault weapon with a high-capacity magazine to shoot at a target, to hunt for wild game or for self-defense. But there are millions of Americans who want those guns — just because they can have them. And given the loss of nearly 9,000 American lives to gun violence so far this year, that sort of gun mania is pathetic.
Hugh Bowden is a lifelong Mainer and retired journalist who lives in Ellsworth.