Too Close to Home

It’s sad to say, but mass shootings in the United States have become so common, that it is easy to view them from a distance, to be detached. After all, the shootings happen somewhere else, to someone else. Sure, they’re horrible, but for most of us, they don’t really affect our lives. Until they do.

This past Friday, one person was killed and ten were injured when a gunman opened fire at a house party in Macomb, Illinois. Macomb is the home of Western Illinois University, where I went to college and where I received a Masters degree this past summer. I spent several years in Macomb. I walked the streets of the town. Many of my friends lived there and walked those same streets. To think that a mass shooting took place there is hard to fathom.

I heard about the shooting in Macomb on my way to Nashville. I was going there to watch my son play rugby for the University of Tennessee. I couldn’t help but think about the shooting in Macomb, a college town, and how it related to my son, who lives in Knoxville, the home of Tennessee’s flagship university. Unlike past shootings, this one was hitting close to home.

After my weekend in Nashville, I packed up and headed back to Wisconsin. As I was driving, another mass shooting took place. This one in the town I had just left. It happened at a private elementary school in the Green Hills area of Nashville. Six people were killed, including three children under the age of ten, two teachers, and the assailant. It’s a horrible, terrifying tragedy, and it happened not too far from where my daughter lives and where my son was playing rugby the previous weekend.

The shooting in Nashville was the 129th mass shooting to happen in the United States since the beginning of the year. One-hundred-twenty-nine mass shootings in less than three full months. Think about that. In the first ninety days of 2023 there have been 129 mass shootings in the United States. Most countries don’t have 129 mass shootings in a decade. Yet, in the United States, we average more than one mass shooting per day.

I’m horrified. In fact, every American should be horrified by the amount of gun violence in this country. Yet, our elected leaders do precious little to try to stop it. It’s easy to blame Republicans, who routinely offer “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families, while mindlessly wrapping themselves in the Second Amendment and posing for Christmas cards while holding assault rifles. But I’m old enough to remember when Democrats controlled both the House and Senate and still didn’t pass comprehensive gun reform. There’s plenty of blame to go around.

I don’t claim to have all the answers when it comes to gun reform. What I do know is that our current gun laws have resulted in 129 mass shootings so far this year. It may be true that we can’t completely stop mass shootings, but there are things we can do to reduce the amount of gun violence in the United States and make it harder for those who mean us harm to get the guns they need.

For instance, why don’t we have universal background checks? Ninety percent of Americans support universal background checks, yet Congress can’t seem to muster the political will to get it done.

In the Nashville shooting, the shooter legally purchased seven different guns while being treated for an emotional disorder. Would a background check have stopped the shooter from getting the guns used to kill the innocent children and their teachers? That’s hard to say with any certainty. Even so, the point remains that a universal background check would help keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

Why do we allow our fellow citizens to purchase assault rifles? In 1994, an assault rifle ban was implemented in the United States. It lasted for ten years before in expired in 2004. During that ten-year period, mass shootings decreased 37% and fatalities from mass shootings fell 70%. After the ban expired, between 2004-2014, mass shootings increased 183%. That’s why two-thirds of all Americans support a permanent ban on the sale of assault weapons.

Other common sense gun reform laws include banning high capacity magazines, passing safe gun storage laws, and creating a gun registry. There is a lot more that can be done to help curb gun violence that falls far short of a complete ban on gun sales (no one is credibly calling for such a ban), and which doesn’t violate the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

We can either push our elected officials to pass meaningful, common sense gun reform, or we can continue to sacrifice our children on the alter of the gun lobby. That is our choice. And we already know what happens when we do nothing.

ADDENDUM: Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld is the incoming president of the American Medical Association (AMA). Here is what he said in the wake of the mass shooting in Nashville:

I’m livid. My colleague lost her child in the Nashville shooting. So this is personal... Because thoughts and prayers will NEVER be enough.

“This is not just a tragedy, it’s a public health crisis that has serious societal and economic effects on our health care system, communities, workplaces, schools, law enforcement agencies and courts. According to the CDC, nearly 49,000 Americans died due to firearms in 2021 – a 28-year high – and tens of thousands more were seriously injured, devastating families in small towns and big cities alike. 1/3 of all firearm-related deaths are homicides, almost 2/3 are suicides.

“The AMA has called for efforts to curb firearm violence since the 1980s and has advocated for policies that support extending waiting periods, strengthening background checks, restoring the ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines & regulating ghost guns. Congress must earmark appropriations specifically for firearm violence research efforts. Congress must increase funding to CDC and NIH for research into the prevention of firearm-related morbidity and mortality. Congress must take action.”


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