Shame on U.S.How many tragedies does it take to change gun policies?
Particularly poignant this week were scenes of people in Washington, D.C. anxiously waiting to find out whether their loved ones were among the survivors of the most recent mass shooting.
A woman waiting for news of her loved one told reporters she was asking God to deliver him safe, tears running down her cheeks. Another woman waited in her car nearby, hoping to see her husband alive again so she could hug him. It was impossible to see their faces without feeling their fear.
It also brought back memories of the stricken faces of parents waiting outside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. after 20 first-graders, many of them 6-year-olds, were shot to death in December. Every parent waited, hoping against hope, that their child was one of the survivors.
That tragedy was widely believed at first to be a "game changer" in the ongoing debate about gun violence and gun laws.
To put it in perspective, we can look at a longer list of mass shootings. Taking out the many shootings involving just one death or even four or five, we can list the ones with 12 or more in recent years:
In April 2007, 32 were shot to death in the Virginia Tech rampage, most of them college students.
Two years later in April 2009, 13 died in a Binghamton, N.Y. massacre.
Another 13 died in Nov. 2009 in Fort Hood, Texas.
In July 2012, a gunman opened fire in a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colo. Twelve died. This is the same state where two legislators were just recalled for supporting tougher gun measures. It's also the same state where 13 were gunned down in 1999 at Columbine High School.
Then on, Dec. 14, 2012, 27, almost all of them very young children, died in the Newtown, Conn. massacre. That's two massacres in 2012, if you're keeping count.
On Sept. 16, 2013, 12 more die after a gunman opens fire at a Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.
Nothing is likely to change in the wake of this shooting unless there is a massive public outcry, given the political influence of the National Rifle Association and other gun rights advocates who have consistently opposed any regulation of firearms.
Even in the wake of the outcry over Sandy Hook, the U.S. Senate defeated proposals for expanded background checks on gun buyers, bans on assault weapons and regulations on high-capacity gun magazines.
When they did, some of those who had lost loved ones in gun-related massacres reportedly cried out, "Shame on you!"
The inability of this nation, from its government to its citizens, to unite in favor of new gun regulations is profoundly disappointing. To continue to argue that no change in policy is needed is morally reprehensible.
The fact is we have a problem and without new regulations, we are doing nothing about it.
We are tired of the same argument, that people have a sacred right to firearms due to the U.S. Constitution. Quite often, in these news pages, we write stories about people who are not allowed to have firearms because they are felons. It is a right that can be given and taken away, a right that can be regulated.
We are tired of the paranoia that the government will devolve into a totalitarian state if we prevent people from owning AR-15 assault rifles. We have more faith in elected leaders than vigilantes with assault rifles.
Most of all, we are tired of the simple selfishness of those who put their own freedom to own firearms above all other considerations.
Other nations have led the way, showing that laws can do some good. Consider this from the Anchorage Daily News:
"Gun violence is not the norm in Australia... Not any more. It dropped dramatically in the late 1990s after the government, in response to a mass shooting that killed 35 citizens, banned automatic and semi-automatic weapons. The political fallout was fierce, but Australians turned in 700,000 guns for destruction. Since then studies have shown a drop in gun-related homicides of nearly 60 percent, and a 65 percent decrease in gun-related suicides. Though Australia experienced 13 mass shootings in 18 years before the crackdown, there have been none since."
Australia responded almost immediately after a mass shooting with new laws. Politicians there paid for their stand with their careers.
The results show the correct response could do much more than simply throwing up our hands and saying, "If someone is crazy, there's no way to stop them."
The public needs to put pressure on lawmakers to fight for background checks, closure of the private sale loophole, limits on high-capacity clips/magazines and bans on assault weapons.
Law-abiding citizens should always have the right to own hunting rifles, but weapons should be registered.
If we cannot even agree to expanded background checks, shame on us.