About the guns

It’s a conversation we should have had earlier this year, when a man who is said to be mentally ill used a semiautomatic handgun with an extended clip to kill six people and injured 12 more, one of whom was a U.S. congresswoman.

But we didn’t have the conversation.

Now, in recent weeks, the Sacramento area has seen a beloved middle-school principal gunned down on campus by a school employee, a family disturbance that turned into a murder scene when a man killed his wife and shot his daughter in front of his twin 5-year-old sons, and a drive-by shooting in a Rancho Cordova neighborhood that killed three young men as they sat on their bicycles.

Whatever opinions we might have about any of these events, there is one thing in common: All of them involved firearms in the hands of people who chose to shoot them at other people.

We recognize that people pull triggers; without the human element, a gun is just another piece of lifeless technology. But for some reason, Americans seem very likely to decide that hitting the “on” switch is a good way to solve their problems. The United States consistently has a higher rate of gun deaths per capita than any other industrial nation; even controlling for murders vs. accidental deaths and suicides, the only countries with more gun violence actually have narco wars going on within their borders.

Gun laws have actually grown less restrictive in recent decades. For instance, as we mentioned a few editorials back, the extended ammunition clip used in the Arizona shootings was illegal until 2004, when federal restrictions were allowed to lapse by Congress. And laws requiring background checks still don’t apply to gun shows in most states, allowing people who are barred from owning weapons to purchase them.

Here’s the truly terrible thing: Our national unwillingness to confront gun violence means that it will continue. These most recent deaths will not be the last.

Even worse, perhaps, is that comedian Chris Rock may have the only solution for ending gun violence that most Americans have even heard of—not that we’ll consider it. Rock suggested in a comedy routine that the solution was not to control guns, but to control bullets. If bullets cost $5,000 each, he said, there aren’t any more innocent bystanders.

But gun violence is not a joke.

For just so long as we refuse to talk about the common denominator here—the simple fact that the availability of a firearm allowed conflict to escalate to murder, and in some cases, mass murder—we can’t do anything to stop it. This has nothing to do with hunting, target and skeet shooting, or any other sportsmanlike pastime. It has nothing to do with historical re-enactors and their period pieces or gun fanciers who seek out and maintain a collection of interesting pieces. It’s not about well-regulated militias, either.

It’s about the easy accessibility to inexpensive handguns and their accessories, which are the tools so often used—whether in the heat of the moment or in a carefully planned attack—for no purpose other than to kill another human.

That’s where firearms regulation needs to begin, but at the very least, it’s the place to begin the conversation.