It seems as though it never ends. Mass shootings. Blood baths. Angry, disturbed killers. Innocent victims mowed down.
We go through it on a regular basis. And nothing seems to put it to a stop.
The attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, in Tucson, by Jared Lee Loughner in which six others were killed and 14 wounded, has focused the nation’s attention on the widespread use of guns and the great obstacles we face in trying to limit gun violence.
The Arizona congresswoman said in March of last year: "Our democracy is a light, a beacon really around the world because we affect change at the ballot box and not because of these outbursts of violence."
I spoke to Josh Horwitz of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. About the controversy surrounding efforts to limit the use of guns, he said: "This is really about the soul of America, about whether we are to be a vibrant, civil society where differences are aired and decided by the rule of law or by guns, used by people who talk of the right to self-defense but really believe that might makes right."
Back 150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln made a speech here in New York in which he said the opposite, that "right makes might."
The gun advocates follow a distinctly contrary philosophy. They think justice and right come out of the barrel of a gun, especially if it’s their gun.
In recent years, the dismaying roll call of gun violence and the toll of deaths has enveloped the country. Here’s a brief compilation, including the number of deaths in each incident:
- San Francisco, street shootings, July, 1993, nine dead.
- Columbine High School Massacre, Colorado, April, 1999, 15 dead.
- Beltway Sniper Attacks, in Washington, Maryland and Virginia, October, 2002, 10 dead.
- Trolley Square Shooting, Salt Lake City, Utah,
- February, 2007, six dead.
- Virginia Tech Massacre, Blacksburg, Virginia, April, 2007, 33 dead.
- Geneva County Massacre, Alabama, March, 2009, 11 dead.
It’s a scoreboard of death and mayhem. Beyond the death tolls, scores have been wounded in these attacks on the citizens of America.
The gun advocates say their right to bear arms is embodied in the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which says that "a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
The amendment goes back to the Revolutionary War when militias indeed were needed to secure the newly formed nation and its government. But in 21st century America, it’s clear we don’t need militias. We don’t need vigilante-style approaches to security. We need security and safety based on the rule of law, not a system where guns can fall into the hands of the mentally deranged.
It’s been estimated that there are 200 million legal guns in America and 400,000 illegal guns. It’s clear that, for every American, there is at least one illegal gun out there.
Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy is backing legislation aimed at reducing the number of bullets in the high capacity ammunition clip the gunman used. Ms McCarthy's husband was gunned down and her son seriously injured in a shooting on an LIRR train in 1993. In a sense, she's a poster girl for the pro-gun control people, but she's practical.
"'We're looking,' she told me,' for a bill that has a realistic chance of passing. I feel that I have to represent the people whose loved ones died or were injured in this and other attacks.'
The gun zealots are against any effort to limit the ability of Americans to buy guns or use them. They seem to feel that any effort to limit guns [even if the goal involves going after mentally disturbed people] is an infringement on freedom.
The zealots are wrong. Their misguided assault on gun control advocates is hard to understand. Their families, their wives, husbands and children are as vulnerable as any of us to the firing of weapons by deranged people.
Josh Horwitz, a passionate advocate of gun control, told me: "Individuals don’t have the right to take up arms. In a democracy, ballots, not bullets, are the way to right wrongs."
New York’s Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, on this issue, has long had it right. "These shootings," he told a church congregation last Sunday, are "a terrible reminder of the gun violence that happens every single day in our country." He ordered city flags flown at half-mast.
Last year, Bloomberg accused President Obama of dragging his feet on gun control. Bloomberg founded a group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Their goal: to get illegal firearms out of the hands of criminals.
It may be a difficult goal to reach.
The politics of gun control is difficult to understand. In the name of safeguarding gun holders, can we continue to expose our people to the menace of those who regard possessing guns as virtually a God-given right? It isn’t.
Above all, we need leaders in Washington and the states and cities who recognize that--- and make protection of our citizens a top priority.
That’s what happened in Tucson. It’s abundantly clear that Loughner, the man who gunned down the innocent at Congresswoman Giffords’ meeting, was crazy. He should have been under lock and key -- and the people who failed to pick up on his homicidal tendencies failed their fellow citizens. This has happened before and it will happen again.
Over the last few days, we’ve heard the usual array of pundits and experts declaiming about the deep divisions and incendiary rhetoric that fuels the hatred of people like Loughner. They are right.
But it is also true that no supposedly civilized country like ours has such a lax approach to gun control. Britain has one of the lowest rates of gun homicides in the world. Its police officers don’t routinely carry firearms.