Gun Safety: Those Who Will Not Learn from the Past

Image Credits: Tom de Boor, Dreamstime, et al

Columbine High School, Littleton, CO: 13 killed in a mass shooting, 1999. Sandy Hook Elementary School, Sandy Hook, CT: 27 killed in 2012. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, FL: 17 killed in 2018.

Each of these mass shootings should have led to meaningful gun safety legislation. But they did not.

In a blog that we posted after the March 24, 2018 student-led March for Our Lives demonstration in Washington D.C. and nearly 900 sibling events in other locations, which drew hundreds of thousands of participants, we stated that we felt they and other factors would result in “new gun laws nationally”. We were wrong.

In spite of the apparent momentum of gun control becoming a “hot button” or wedge issue, the status quo with guns not being a major concern for the average citizen and the overriding power of the NRA continued to prevail.

That dampening effect brought the U.S. to the pandemic period from March 2020 until today with no relief in sight in terms of gun control. As a result, this time frame could also be labeled the gundemic period during which mass shootings and gun ownership exploded.

According to the New York Times, the National Violence Archives reports that in 2020 there were 600 mass shootings resulting in at least four people being injured or killed, compared to 419 mass shootings in 2019. In 2021, as of May 26, there have already been 226 mass shootings.

These shootings have occurred across the nation and in various types of locations: 8 people killed in the Atlanta spa shooting; 8 killed in the Indianapolis FedEx shooting; 10 killed in the Boulder, CO King Soopers supermarket shooting; 10 killed in the San Jose, CA Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority shooting. Sadly, the list goes on and on.

Even more sadly, it does not include gun deaths by homicide and suicide. The National Violence Archives reports that as of May 24 there have been more than 7,500 deaths by gun violence in toto so far in 2021 — a 23% increase over 2020.

Then there is the flip side of the gun equation. That is the dramatic increase in gun sales in 2020 and 2021.

FBI firearm background checks soared to nearly 40 million in 2020 from the previous high of 28 million+ in 2019. The total in the first third of this year is nearly 16 million, with the months of January and March having more than 4 million background checks, each being the highest in history.

More stunning than these surges is who is buying guns. In a May 30 article in the New York Times, Sabrina Tavernise reports:

New preliminary data from Northeastern University and the Harvard Injury Control Research Center show that about a fifth of all Americans who bought guns last year were first time gun owners. And the data, which has not been previously released, showed that new owners were less likely to be male and white than usual. Half were women, a fifth were Black and a fifth were Hispanic.

More guns do not necessarily translate directly into more gun violence. But, it is axiomatic that more guns do not mean less gun violence.

This is just another reason why there is a need for more comprehensive and informed national gun safety regulations. The House has passed two bills closing loopholes in the gun background check system, and the Biden-Harris administration has urged Congress to take more mitigating legislative measures such as banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

It is highly unlikely that any of these measures will become law. That’s not just our opinion. It’s also that of sociologists Eulalie Laschever and David S. Meyer, who, in their article on gun regulations for the Washington Post, state that “…we do not expect Congress to pass new national legislation.”

Laschever and Meyer cite three reasons for their conclusion:

1. Gun rights groups have more money and staying power than gun regulation groups. Gun regulation groups raise, on average, less than 10 percent of the funding raised by gun rights groups.

2. Most Americans support firearm restrictions, but few consider it an urgent priority.

3. U.S. political institutions favor the status quo. Major policy changes are difficult to get passed. This has been especially so for at least the past two decades.

We agree with all of these reasons and would add to them.

1. Allegiance to and an ignorance of the Second Amendment.

2. These divided and polarized times.

3. Rights trump responsibilities.

The most common refrain from gun advocates against any type of gun legislation is that it would deprive them of their Second Amendment rights. Many of those who make that claim may never have seen that amendment.

The Second Amendment, in its totality, reads as follows: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged.”

One of the most outrageous statements regarding the amendment was made by Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL). At a rally for Representative Marjorie Greene (R-GA) in her home district, Gaetz proclaimed:

“The Second Amendment is about maintaining, within the citizenry, the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government if that becomes necessary. I hope it never does, but it sure is important to recognize the founding principles of this nation, and to make sure that they are fully understood.”

No, that is not what the Second Amendment is about. In fact, it is about just the opposite. The amendment exists to protect and prevent the overthrow of the State.

As we said in an earlier blog,

…the historical perspective shows clearly and convincingly that the Second Amendment was established for one reason and one reason only and this was to protect an individual’s right to a weapon in order to serve as part of the state’s militia. There was and is absolutely no guarantee of a right to a gun outside of this context.

In spite of this limited perspective, because of the sustained lobbying and influence of the NRA and related gun rights groups for more than half a century, gun rights have expanded exponentially. And so too has gun ownership.

There are more than 400 million guns in the United States today. It is unlikely that many of them are held for the purpose of serving legitimately in a duly constituted state militia.

There is no definitive data on what has driven the recent growth in sales. It seems probable, because of the confrontational and chaotic state of the nation, that citizens are buying guns to either go on the attack or to defend themselves against those on the other side.

The physiological reaction to an acute stress situation is referred to as the “fight or flight response.” In today’s acutely trying times, as new gun owners come in by the millions, it could be called the “fight or fright response.”

That response is understandable but not desirable. It has come to the forefront because we are living in an era when citizens do not understand, or will not accept, that along with our rights as citizens come responsibilities.

This lack of responsibility was called to national attention by a secessionist mob, calling themselves patriots, storming the halls of Congress on January 6. This would and could never have occurred in a democracy where citizens understood their civic duties.

The exercise of these rights — or wrongs as one might perceive them — are not just citizens acting irresponsibly. They are also about states doing so as well.

The Tenth Amendment “reserves to the States respectively, or to the people” all powers not delegated to the United States in the Constitution. Recently some states have respectively liberalized gun rights and reduced voters’ rights.

The Guardian reports that in May, Texas became the 20th state to pass legislation stating that it was no longer necessary to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Meanwhile, The Jurist, drawing on information from the Brennan Center for Justice, reports that through May of this year 14 states have passed 22 laws restricting voting access.

What this indicates is that, in many states, guns count but voters do not. Given this paradoxical condition, is it any wonder that on Memorial Day, President Joe Biden declared that our U.S. democracy is “in peril.”

Given this perilous state, and the probability that there will be no new gun laws nationally in the near term, what should be done? The answer is to carry on.

The Biden administration has indicated its intent to do that with the nomination of David Chipman, a professed gun control proponent, to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (B. A.T.F). If confirmed, Chipman would be only the second permanent director of the B.A.T.F approved by the Senate in the 15 years the position has been subject to Senate confirmation. He would definitely bring more rigorous national oversight to guns.

Then the need will be to continue to carry on because, as Laschever and Meyer observe in their Washington Post article, “…some facts suggest next time might be different.” Those facts are: The gun safety groups have grown stronger over the past decade due to high profile shootings. And, the NRA has become considerably weaker, due to its financial and leadership problems.

The truth is that to this point, to paraphrase a well-known quote from philosopher George Santayana, there are those in leadership positions nationally and within states who, for whatever reason, have closed minds, and will not learn from the past regarding the violence wrought by and with guns. As a result, Americans are not condemned to repeat history but to live in a country of increasing gun violence with the ugly potential for even more.

This suggests that national gun safety legislation will most probably not be passed unless there are high profile or mass shooting events that traumatize the American public and fully compel politicians to respond. This is unfair and unfortunate for the majority of Americans who support some form of improved national gun laws.

As we wrote in 2013,

The second amendment to the United States Constitution states, “A well- regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” We honor that right as we do all those rights enumerated in the nation’s Constitution.

We also recognize, as it is so eloquently stated in our country’s Declaration of Independence, that we are “all endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Our governments were instituted to protect those rights.

Enhancing public safety by preventing gun violence respects the legitimate right to bear arms while protecting our “unalienable rights.” It moves this beyond the false choices poised by gun rights and gun control advocates into the arena for full consideration where open rather than closed minds may prevail.

It is now approaching a decade since we made that observation. Now, more than ever, because of the increasingly dangerous circumstances confronting our country and its citizens, we need open rather than closed minds to prevail with regard to gun safety and protecting our “unalienable rights.”

We know that will not happen this year, and maybe not next year, or even years after that, but it will happen. Until then, we concerned citizens need to carry on to ensure that it does.

That is our right and it is our responsibility. Carry on!

Originally published by the Frank Islam Institute for 21st Century Citizenship. For more information on what 21st century citizenship entails, and to see exemplars from around the world, please visit our website.