FROM THIS DISTANCE the murders in El Paso and Dayton speak for themselves. Yes, our thoughts go out to the survivors and their communities. And yes, those thoughts then drift toward wondering how long before these violent outbursts and their aftermath engulf us too.
Statistics say the odds are still in our favor when it comes to avoiding young, white males armed with military-style firearms and determined to murder as many strangers as possible. But who among us measures risk by such calculations?
Once again public attention turns to the question: What can we do? You’d think by now the data might affect the behavior of those federal politicians who normally oppose any restrictions on the ownership of firearms. Start with an estimate of how many of the roughly 40,000 firearm deaths a year in the U.S. from all types of firearms could be prevented by tightening the rules for the purchase or possession of a gun. We could calculate how many more lives could be saved if military-style rifles were removed from the equation. Put another way, how many innocent people must die before the right to own a particular type of weapon becomes too costly?
Our neighbors who reject any effort to restrict access to to firearms know this math too. They have compassion for the families of the murder victims and the wounded. So why do we come to such different conclusions from the same set of facts?
We have strong gun laws in this state because the murder of children in Connecticut shocked even those conservative state lawmakers who routinely opposed any firearm restrictions. For that critical moment decent people could not remain silent and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Safe Act won legislative approval.
More children have been murdered since, with only modest progress emerging from their sacrifice. What outrage would it take now to compel the U.S. Senate’s Republican majority and the president to take meaningful steps to reduce the carnage?
So far it does not look like the most recent mass murders in Texas and Ohio will move the Senate to action. In his speech Monday Mr. Trump rejected the notion that regulating firearms should play a part in stopping mass murders with firearms.
For all our laws regulating firearms, New York needs help from the federal government to stem the illegal importation of handguns and rifles into the state, especially into the New York Metropolitan Area and upstate cities statewide. The assistance needed involves both enforcement and legislation.
No single law will end gun violence, but without all levels of government supporting basic steps like universal background checks for gun purchases and an end to military-style rifles that can fire large volumes of ammunition, we’re left to compare body counts and dread that we or someone we know and love might be on the next list of victims.
Mass murders account for only a small percentage of the gun deaths in this nation. But because of their character they inspire the strongest reaction. So, what if we took the radical step and didn’t address them as the primary focus (except for law enforcement) but concentrated instead on all the other gun-related deaths and injuries? They are still an epidemic by any rational standard. Could we find common ground? Do we have any leaders brave enough to try? Is there another way to begin?