A few months ago as I was driving through my hometown of Wylie, Texas, I saw a gathering of large, angry-looking men standing on the street corner in front of the local Target. They were standing on the corner of the street near the parking lot, armed with machine guns: huge, possibly loaded assault rifles. Some held the weapons while others displayed signs proclaiming, “Open carry is our constitutional right!”
These were not hunting rifles. They were not pistols or household revolvers used for family protection, subsistence hunting or innocent sport. These were massive, deadly and completely unnecessary weapons designed specifically for bloody destruction, and they were on display in plain view of women and children who were just trying to buy groceries.
These are the same guns that are used in almost every mass shooting to date. They are the same guns that we sell in American stores every single day. And they are the same guns that were purchased legally and used in the shooting that took place this Thursday in Rosburg, Ore.
This is a problem to which we are disturbingly, catastrophically and fatally apathetic.
When asked to provide a comment about the horrific shooting at Umpqua Oregon Community College, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush embodied this nation’s collective indifference by shrugging and responding:
“Look, stuff happens.”
In a sense, he’s correct. “Stuff” absolutely happens. It happens when we have preventative legislation lying unsigned on the desks of negligent politicians. It happens when House representatives refuse to take action, instead making callous excuses when deranged shooters desperately in need of psychological help have no trouble purchasing and using firearms of this magnitude. It happens when we sell these items in stores all over the country and expect them to never be used. It happens when funding for preventative mental health care proposed in congressional budget meetings is repeatedly struck down.
It happens when we pretend that our system isn’t broken, even in the face of overwhelming evidence proving the opposite.
Should we be able to defend ourselves? Absolutely. Should homeowners, hunters, fathers and mothers be able to own reasonable weapons to protect their families and hunt? Without a doubt.
But assault rifles like AR-15s and AK-47s should not be made available for purchase. They should not be in the possession of untrained nonmilitary citizens and they certainly should never be in the angry, hateful hands of psychologically sick men like this week’s unnamed Oregon shooter.
In response to these atrocities, there are countless steps that we as a country could take in order to move toward progress. We could start by closing the loopholes in background check procedures for gun sales, tightening the significant but rarely acknowledged gaps in our system that let violent shooters slip through the cracks.
Currently, there is a federal law stating that if a background check takes the FBI more than 72 hours to complete, gun dealers may sell the firearm anyway. This type of bureaucratic accident is precisely what enabled Dylann Roof, who killed nine people in a South Carolina church this summer, to purchase a weapon he otherwise would have been denied.
The elimination of this statute is the first step of many we could easily take to strengthen our defense against civilian gun violence. Other possible legislative efforts include cracking down on gun trafficking, regulating ammunition and magazines by limiting the types and numbers of bullets sold, restoring the now-expired 1994 ban on assault weapons, and increasing the waiting periods required to purchase weapons.
And yet, as time has so troublingly told, none of these things will happen anytime soon. More of these extreme weapons will be bought and sold as over 60 percent of the guns used in these shootings are obtained legally in the American system, according to the Washington Post. More legislation will be ignored and struck down. More people will continue to die.
While there is no perfect solution and there will never be a time when violent destruction does not take place in this world, we have the power to implement some amount of change. We’ve already demonstrated our willingness as a country to fight the war on terrorism; we’ve enacted plenty of what some might consider constitutionally questionable legislation in efforts to prevent those attacks, and rightfully so. We’ve held serious congressional meetings on the topic of terrorism and worked together to create laws that help promote public welfare and protect national security. We take every available action to combat the threat, as long as it’s a threat from the outside. Why, then, don’t we treat gun violence the same way?
Something about these types of attacks, the threats from within, makes the issue virtually untouchable. It doesn’t matter that this is a type of internal terrorism, a problem that ought to be just as seriously addressed. It doesn’t matter that we have potential solutions waiting for us to implement. We’re unwilling to listen and so the violence continues.
With this issue, it is inexcusable to simply say, “stuff happens.” Not when there are actions we can take, atrocities we can avoid and deaths we can prevent.
We simply have to try.