Monday, May 26, 2014

Gun control: a thought experiment

One of the most depressing features of mass shootings is how rote they've become.  With minor variations, they usually follow the same storyline: disturbed man with legally obtained gun or guns shoots people to avenge some perceived wrong.  There is an outcry, people wonder "How could this have happened?," and then everyone moves on until the next one.

Photo from Chicago Tribune

There is going to be a next one.  There is no possibility - zero - there will not be a next one.

One thing that does not happen is any concerted effort to make it more difficult for anyone, including the mentally ill, to obtain guns.  If you can't pass any meaningful gun control legislation after 20 CHILDREN are killed in school, what would it take?

That's a question I've been thinking about since Newtown.  Here, let me reframe it:

In today's political climate, what set of circumstances would have to transpire to prompt the passage of meaningful gun control legislation?

We know what IS NOT enough.  Routine mass shootings - say, 5 to 10 victims, barely register.  The NRA probably wouldn't support keeping a gun away from the murderer himself for 5 to 10 victims.

20 schoolchildren and 6 adults in a school isn't enough.

Killing 13 people on a military base in the US isn't enough.

The largest mass shooting in US history was the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007.  32 killed.  Remember how, after that, there was a national movement to institute enhanced background checks for firearm purchases?  No, because that never happened.

So definitely more than 32 people have to die.  How about 50?  What is a single gunman using legally purchased weapons killed 50 people, say, at a cookout in a park?  Would that do it?  There would definitely be a CBS Special Report and a lot of speeches and a lot of people would say something should be done but my guess is no, nothing would change at 50 dead.  If you feel differently, I'd love to know why.

What about 100?  What if 2 killers, acting together using some legally and some illegally obtained firearms, somehow managed to kill 100 people in one incident?  Definitely 2 CBS Special Reports.  Definitely a special address to the nation by the President.  Definitely a moment of silence before baseball games.  Legislation?  Introduced, but killed by the NRA.

There was one event, however, where all of Congress came together (except for Rep. Barbara Lee, who now looks heroic in retrospect) and said "Because of this number of people killed, we are willing to launch 2 wars at a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, wars that are only tangentially related to the killings."  I'm talking about 9/11, of course.

So that's my number.  3,000.  If one or more gunmen were able to shoot and kill 3,000 American citizens in a single incident of unimaginable horror and violence, then I honestly believe Congress would stare down the gun lobby and say "I am SO SORRY but - and I am REALLY, REALLY SORRY - I am going to have to vote for this almost-guaranteed-ineffectual wave towards gun control, because I will 100% get voted out of office if I don't.  I'll do my best to water it down.  Please don't back somebody in a primary against me."

And then we'd wait for the next one.


Vatina said...

I want to laugh and I want to cry. Maybe, MAYBE 3,000 but I imagine the NRA would also just up the ante with their seemingly endless supply of contribution dollars and lobbying power.

Rachel said...

Ugh, you speak the truth, sir.
Thanks for this - thoughtful and thought provoking.

Anonymous said...
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Tamagosan said...

Well, you've made it impossible to make a snarky comment. As it should be.

So I'll just say that it's sad, that it's America and than Rep. Lee has always been a hero in my book.

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Unknown said...

That is a good point right there. I do agree with you. I mean, how many instances, how many crimes and how many victims are supposed to die before we realize that we have a very lax gun control in this country? The apparent lack of law regarding gun control is what causes a majority of crimes in this country. I think it’s high time that the congress should consider that.

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