The shameful epidemic

Will Sandy Hook shock us into dealing with gun violence at last?

Our country is reacting with shock, horror and grief to yet another mass shooting—this time at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 elementary schoolchildren and six adults were killed by a lone gunman. We should be shocked. We should be horrified. We should grieve for the victims and their families. And, as a country, we should be ashamed.

Every year, more than 30,000 U.S. civilians are killed by guns. Children in the United States are killed by guns at a rate that is 12 times higher than in the other leading 25 industrialized countries of the world. Gunshot wounds are the second leading cause of death in children in the United States, just behind motor-vehicle crashes. The Connecticut shooting evokes memories of the 1989 Cleveland Elementary School shooting in Stockton, California, in which five children were killed and 29 wounded; the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado, in which 13 students and teachers were killed and 24 wounded or injured; and the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, in which 32 people were killed and 17 wounded.

Between July 1, 1994, and June 30, 1999, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there were 220 separate shooting incidents on high-school campuses across the United States with 253 deaths. The report concluded that school-related shootings were “rare.” The Canadian press commented that it was “uniquely American” to regard 220 separate high-school shooting incidents in five years as rare.

The single factor which most clearly distinguishes the United States from other democratic, industrialized countries that have far less gun violence is the easy availability of guns in our country. We should be ashamed that we have not adopted the same kind of sensible gun-control laws as in those other countries which put the onus on the gun owner to show why he needs a gun, not on society to prove that he shouldn’t have one.

We should be ashamed of our elected leaders who, with few exceptions, lack the political courage to even talk about gun control. Even after Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was critically wounded in a mass shooting in January 2011, Congress failed to take any action to prevent future mass shootings.

The current majority on the Supreme Court should be ashamed of itself for essentially rewriting the Second Amendment. In 1939, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of the United States v. Miller that the Second Amendment, which begins with the phrase, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” guarantees a collective right of the people to maintain armed state militias, such as the present-day National Guard, but not an individual right to own guns. The late Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger stated that the misrepresentation of the Second Amendment as guaranteeing an individual right to own guns was “one of the greatest pieces of fraud … on the American public” that he had seen in his lifetime. Shamefully, the current Supreme Court became a party to that fraud when it ruled in a 5-4 decision in 2008 that the District of Columbia’s ban on private ownership of handguns violated the Second Amendment.

In the absence of anything short of a ban on handguns and assault weapons, it is not predictable when and where the next mass shootings will occur, but it is certain that they will continue to occur. It is past time for our country to stop the shameful epidemic of gun violence. It is time for us to adopt comprehensive gun-control laws that show that we love our children more than our guns.