Tragedy may loosen our grip on guns
Restricting guns would be a step toward a healthier culture.
Seattle Times staff columnist
This may be the moment when we make a breakthrough on reining in gun violence.
I doubt many people thought that in the immediate aftermath of the shooting in Newtown, Conn. We have a well-worn routine of quick outrage that fades into inaction after a mass shooting, but this time feels different. Maybe we can fall out of love with guns.
States are talking about adding regulations. In Seattle, City Council members and the mayor are offering up ideas for controlling access to weapons. It's talk, but bolder than before, and more broadly based across the country.
The National Rifle Association has departed from its usual script and promises to announce Friday what it will do to help reduce mass shootings.
I hope they'll be talking about guns. Usually they blame people, and they are right that people can be dangerous — too dangerous to have guns.
People kill without guns, too, of course. Guns are just tools that make killing easier.
The NRA might suggest we focus on mental illness. We ought to put more effort into detecting and treating mental illness, but as a health issue, not as the answer to gun violence. The troubled shooter in Connecticut took his mother's guns. The gunman who killed two people at Clackamas Town Center near Portland last week before shooting himself was described as a regular guy with "a heart of gold."
Gun regulation is key, and President Obama said Wednesday he'll make gun control a central issue in his second term.
We have an opportunity to significantly reduce gun violence, first through regulation, then more deeply over time through cultural change.
Changing how we view ourselves is important because America's long embrace of guns is part of who we are.
American exceptionalism includes outstripping the rest of the industrial world in gun ownership, murders and mass killings. We have some wonderful qualities, but those are not among them.
It will be hard to loosen our grip, but doing so will make us a better people, and we've done the seemingly impossible before. The idea of women voting was once unimaginable to most Americans. Certainly it wasn't something the founders intended, but it didn't kill us did it?
The struggle for that right seemed futile at times, and so have efforts to manage guns. But in all successful movements there comes a time when the stars line up.
In polls after previous shootings, public opinion on gun control barely budged, if at all, but this time a majority of Americans say gun control is necessary.
The possibility of change is real enough that an investment firm is trying to sell its stake in the country's largest gun maker, Freedom Group, which makes the Bushmaster rifle Adam Lanza used to kill all those little children.
Those children may be the difference this time. How we see crimes is affected by who the victims are, and no one could be unmoved by the deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The force of that emotion should propel us forward to take actions that have been proved to reduce gun violence.
Ban assault weapons like the Bushmaster.
Ban large-capacity magazines.
Make getting a gun permit at least as hard as getting a driver's license.
None of that will take us to zero mass shootings, but we will be safer than we are now.
Changing the culture is a long-term project. Guns are embedded in entertainment, and gun ownership in the image many people have of themselves.
I saw copies online of ads from Freedom Group. Each was about someone who had his "man card" revoked, and each suggested buying a Bushmaster could restore it.
Maybe it's time to grow up and reject that kind of thinking.
Our cousins in Australia are a pretty hardy bunch. They adopted strict gun controls after a large mass shooting in 1996 and have had no mass shootings since. It could still happen, but it is much less likely than before. And Australia's rugged image hasn't suffered.
While the momentum for change exists here, there are trends that run the other direction too. Gun ownership has been rising recently.
The winds are swirling in more than one direction. Still, we have a chance to catch the wind that blows toward a more civil society.
Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @jerrylarge.
About Jerry Large
I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
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