By Gallagher & Schleicher
This is going to be about guns. Please don’t shout till you’ve read the whole thing.
We are temporarily setting aside glib attempts at satire to write frankly about a uniquely American problem that is literally spilling our blood across the land, in schools, cinemas and, again, houses of worship.
The pattern is all too familiar. Another “breaking news” feed about yet another gun massacre. A brief pause. Was the shooter insane (white) or a terrorist (non-white)? We at least know it’s a male. From there social media outrage will fall into the usual grooves (liberals: ban such guns; conservatives: liberty!), thoughts and prayers will proliferate and then…silence.
So let’s pause.
Between us, we grew up owning a gun before a driver’s license, worked in mental-health advocacy, have dealt with clients and others who struggle through depression and the other hostage-holders of the brain, and represented several psychiatrists. These experiences didn’t make us experts in psychiatry or gun violence. But they did open our eyes to a number of harsh realities that play out over and over in communities around the United States, most recently in Sutherland Springs, Texas, not too far from where we both grew up.
So here’s the thing (or a few things, actually):
Where there are guns, there is death. And where there are a lot of guns, there is a lot of death. It’s that simple. Guns are like bacteria — sometimes protective but often lethally destructive. This is not to say they should be eradicated. This won’t happen. Nor is it a license to pretend they are benign objects of neutrality. They are not.
Mass killings capture headlines but, in germ terms, only reflect the moments of peak infection. Guns do more damage in the United States, quantitatively, day in and day out, whether as instruments of crime, domestic violence or via accidents.
This is a uniquely American misery. No other developed economy endures the rate of death and injury due to firearms as the United States. This is a fact.
So we have a dilemma. We are awash in constitutionally protected weaponry and we are awash in our own blood. Solutions are elusive and we’re too quick to reject ideas worth pursuing because we assume they won’t go far enough (some liberals) or any effort comes at the price of freedom (some conservatives).
So let’s set aside a few distractions. Nobody walks into a church, school or cinema and shoots up the place without having some kind of mental illness or at least a whole lot of hate. Their rage may be framed by their politics, faith or economic disenfranchisement. The president’s right, all countries deal with people like that. The difference is that in the United States it is far easier than in other Westernized democracies to get a handgun, semi-automatic rifle or a weapon altered to mimic an assault rifle.
Nobody kills and maims dozens of people at a time without easy access to military-grade weaponry. Yes, there are those who kill with cars or trucks, but these are not designed for death and access to them is regulated.
Thank goodness there is occasionally a good guy with a gun. But as policy, this is sub-zero sum — bad math for life when the ratio is 1:25.
And, setting aside accidents, we must concede that people willing to kill or hurt others are not likely to be deterred by laws. But this doesn’t mean we should make it easy for them to do so. Minors buy alcohol, pedophiles sell child porn and people shirk their taxes. We prosecute all, fully, and hold manufacturers accountable for output and use in virtually every other area of business and commerce. Why are guns different? Are they the last holy thing in America?
Solutions are possible but cannot start from universal intransigence. All sides will have to find agreement on a few key points of mutual interest. Safety in public places seems like a good place to start. No, we’ll never eliminate all gun crime or accidents and, yes, we’ll have to contemplate some limits on access. No one (at least that we regularly hear from) is calling for an end to hunting or for confiscating that handgun in your locked safe at home.
We don’t expect last Sunday’s massacre to catalyze change anymore than the hundreds of other incidents endured by communities around the country. But hope can go beyond expectation — and so, once again, we hope we all can wake up, meet somewhere in the middle and start rolling down the numbers.
Routine mass murder is not what our ancestors intended by “American Exceptionalism.” It is not normal. Or at least it need not be.
David Gallagher is a transplanted Texan, living and working in London and tweeting @TBoneGallagher. David Schleicher is an attorney who splits his time between Waco, D.C. and Houston, tweeting @TheContranym. This piece originally appeared in the Waco Tribune-Herald on November 12, 2017, where the Davids are on the Board of Contributors.