David Love: After gun massacres, we decry shooters, blame mental illness, absolve ourselves. Who is willing to take blame on guns?
He says from the gun-shop owners, to NRA, to the Supreme Court to Congress, we deny impact of guns, hold useless moments of silence
Editor’s Note: David A. Love is a freelance journalist and commentator based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely his.
In this land of the free, where gun-rights zealots tell us that guns don’t kill people, people do, no one wants to assume responsibility for the proliferation of firearms. With each passing massacre, we pass the buck. We deny our moral, legal and ethical responsibilities. We blame the gunman, and absolve ourselves.
A case in point is Edward Henson, owner of the St. Lucie Shooting Center, a gun store. Henson, a retired New York City police officer, sold the AR-15 military-grade assault rifle and 9 mm pistol used by Omar Mateen to kill 49 people and wound 53 in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
In a press conference this week, Henson made his position clear: everything was done by the book, so don’t blame him.
“I would like to avoid any political issues and stick to the facts regarding this case. An evil person came here and he legally purchased two firearms from us,” Henson said. “And if he hadn’t purchased it from us, I’m sure he would’ve gotten them from another local gun store in the area. This man held multiple security licenses. He had an armed and an unarmed license. He passed a background check that every single person that purchases a firearm in the state of Florida undergoes …
“I have a business,” Henson said. “I follow the law, I don’t make the law.”
No one suggests Henson broke the law: he has a right to choose to participate in the legal gun industry that funnels firearms into the population at a staggering rate. And Florida, unlike states such as California and New York, allows the general public to buy assault rifles meant for warfare. Making it legal doesn’t make it right, as someone must take responsibility.
Surely the powerful lobby known as the National Rifle Association bears some blame. According to a 2014 report from the Violence Policy Center and Amnesty International, the NRA “has received an estimated tens of millions of dollars from the firearms industry to support political lobbying and firearm marketing efforts.”
The report continued that the pro-gun organization “uses its financial capital to influence politicians at the state and federal levels of government to support or oppose specific pieces of legislation despite the negative consequences associated with it.”
The NRA rubs salt in the wound when it markets to children, in an effort to replace its dwindling customer base of aging white men. Further, the group encourages parents to store firearms in their children’s bedrooms, and rewrites children’s fairytales with firearms figuring prominently .
Meanwhile, Congress is culpable when its members accept money from the NRA, through a system of legalized bribery that corrupts lawmakers, and prevents them from passing any sensible gun regulations, including gun bans for suspected terrorists. In addition, Congress has restricted federal funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for gun violence research, severely limiting America’s ability to address guns as a public health issue.
Moreover, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia bore responsibility in writing the opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, a hat-tip to the NRA worldview that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to gun ownership, rather than military duty. The NRA has rewritten, if not whitewashed, an amendment that was used to preserve slavery and control the Native Americans.
In a case of American exceptionalism no other country would wish to emulate, the United States – with less than 5% of the world’s population – has as many as half of the world’s civilian-owned firearms, according to a report from the Small Arms Survey. Over 300 million guns is simply unsustainable.
Further, the U.S. comes in first place in guns per capita, and has the highest firearm homicide rate of the most advanced countries in the world. And a study published in the American Journal of Medicine in February found that Americans are 10 times more likely to be shot to death than people in other wealthy countries. Our firearm murder rate is 25 times higher than 22 other developed nations, and our gun suicide rate is eight times higher.
When the shootings such as Orlando take place, we hear empty platitudes from politicians who urge prayer. This, as no one asks why a civilian needs a military weapon whose only purpose was effectively demonstrated by Omar Mateen. The successful filibuster in the U.S. Senate to force a vote on gun control is promising, but only a first step. Our nation’s leader should be running toward this problem.
Now is the time to take collective responsibility on guns rather than observe a moment of silence.