No More ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ It’s Time to Address the Murderous American Gun Culture

No More ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ It’s Time to Address the Murderous American Gun Culture October 4, 2017

CulpeperBaptistby Bruce Gerencser cross posted from his blog The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser

Editor’s note: Since this is such a triggering hot button issue I felt I needed to reiterate what is and is not acceptable in the commentary so as to not have repeat of what happened the last time Bruce posted here. So I know not everyone in this world is in favor of gun control, even after the horrible tragedies that have taken place in New Town, the Pulse nightclub and Sunday night’s shootings in Las Vegas. That’s fine. What’s not fine is coming into the comments here and violating our comment policy. If you are not a regular reader please read the policy before posting.

Last week NLQ posted a piece by Bruce involving the racism going on in our society and leaders, which attracted a pile of John Birch Society members in the comments. Disqus Toxicity Filter caught the vast majority of these people upset that Bruce mentioned JBS exactly once. Two of the commenters did not get caught by the filter and ended up on NLQ trying to defend their organization as not racist. That would have been fine if they’d not have attacked the author, objected to the moderator removing links to their organization and claimed we were defaming their organization by doing so. None of those three things are allowed here.

Don’t agree with Bruce? That’s fine, but attack the idea, not the author.

What the JBS members who tried to post here didn’t realize is that Bruce and myself, are both old enough to remember the JBS support of George Wallace for president and other times they aligned themselves with open racism. We’ve both had family members heavily involved and know what they believe. That Google is not necessarily their friend. Sorry to be so long but this issue of commenters coming here trying to fight needed to be addressed. Carry on.

~~~~~

Another mass shooting in America, this time in Las Vegas. Senseless carnage and death, perpetrated by a nondescript white man using semi-automatic rifles armed with high captivity clips to rain terror down on the heads of concert-goers. Billed as the worst mass shooting in American history — surpassing the Pulse Night Club massacre — the shooting has aroused social media, filling it with comments from people who, not knowing what else to say, utter the most empty, worthless phrase ever to fall from human lips — my thoughts and prayers are with the victims of ____________.

I understand why people use the thoughts and prayers line. When faced with human savagery and carnage, we search for something, anything to say that might bring the slightest comfort to those harmed by violence. Uttering these words makes us feel better, right? There’s nothing more we can we do for the victims of terrorist attacks or hurricanes, so we throw some empty words towards the sky, knowing that, based on past events, our words will do nothing to change what happened. No matter how many good thoughts or prayers we send out into the netherworld, nothing changes. Why is this? Millions of Christians believe their prayers are heard by God, ignoring that the fact that he never answers them.

What did prayer do for the victims of recent hurricanes? Countless prayers were uttered for the victims in Puerto Rico, and what did God do? Nothing.  Mass murderers continue to mow down their victims with impunity. Prayers are uttered. God will do nothing as the next murderer or terrorist plans to maim and murder countless people. As far as I can tell, the only prayers answered by God were those prayed by Evangelicals during the 2016 presidential election. God indeed heard their prayers, blessing America with the forty-fifth president of the United States — Donald Trump. Outside of Trump’s election, God seems to be sitting on sidelines as his creation is ravaged by global warming, war, famine, drought, terrorism, and gun violence.

At the heart of the Las Vegas mass shooting is America’s insane love of guns — more specifically, our worship of a deified interpretation of the Second Amendment. Mention regulating the sale, type, and use of firearms, and the NRA crazies come out of the woodwork to defend their right to own firearms without ANY restrictions (even though recent studies suggest that a majority of NRA members support stricter gun laws).

Gun lovers, using a faulty understanding of the Second Amendment, demand the right to buy and sell guns at will. (Please read Gary Wills’ insightful article on the Second Amendment, To Keep and Bear Arms.) Attempts to restrict gun sales and use are met with hysterical cries about liberals and communists coming to take away our guns! During the 2016 election, right-wingers talked about using “second amendment remedies” to violently overthrow the federal government if the wrong people were elected. The right man won, and as thanks for helping him get elected, Donald Trump loosened gun laws, making it easier for mentally ill people to buy firearms.

Nevada, home to the latest mass shooting, has some of the loosest gun laws in the nation. I am not suggesting that stricter laws would have kept Steven Paddock from murdering and wounding hundreds of concert-goers. No single event can be used to justify stricter (or looser) gun laws. We can, however, take a big step backward and look at gun violence in general and begin asking questions about how best to lessen violence perpetrated by people with handguns, long guns, and semi-automatic weapons. Doing nothing is no longer an option — a refrain I have been singing for the past decade.

First, voting Americans need to understand that only seven percent of gun owners belong to the NRA. Now, this doesn’t mean that non-NRA gun owners don’t support the NRA’s agenda — many of them do. What it does mean is that the NRA plays a larger-than-life part in the gun law debate. Certainly, the NRA and its constituents deserve a place at the table, but it is time for Americans to see that the NRA is more of a chihuahua than a pit bull.  Once our political leaders realize this, they will quit fearing NRA retribution if they support strengthening gun laws.

Second, I would like to see the United States adopt similar gun laws to those found in England or Australia.  I realize that gun laws must be changed incrementally, but surely our political leaders can stop their bickering long enough to enact meaningful, progressive gun law reform that protects the right to own firearms, while at the same time strengthening gun registration laws (requiring ALL guns to be registered), putting an end to unregulated private gun sales, unregulated gun shows, and the sale of military (and military-like) firearms and accessories.

Australia strictly regulates gun sales and ownership, restricting firearm use to:

  • Sport/target shooting
  • Hunting
  • Primary production
  • Professional hunting
  • Handgun or clay target shooting (including licences held on behalf of juniors)
  • Employment as a security and/or prison guard
  • Official, commercial or prescribed purpose or for a purpose authorised by an Act or Regulation.

England, which has the one of the lowest gun homicide rates in the world, has strict gun control laws. According to Wikipedia:

Fully automatic (submachine-guns, etc.) are “prohibited weapons” and require explicit permission from central government to permit ownership. Generally, such permits are not available to private citizens. Semi-automatic rifles over .22 in (5.6 mm) and pistols are similarly “prohibited”, although there are exceptions for short barrelled breech-loading semi-automatic and revolver pistols for use for the humane dispatch of animals (classed under section 5). There are also very limited exceptions for pistols both to preserve firearms of historic or technical interest (classed as section 7 firearms) and to enable use by elite sports teams. Semi-automatic shotguns are restricted to a magazine capacity of no more than two shot and is held under section 2 of the Firearms Act, although a ‘multi-shot’ shotgun can be owned under section 1 (restricted firearms and ammunition) of the Firearms Act. Where the term ‘multi-shot’ is used, this refers to either a Semi-automatic or pump action shotgun with no restriction on magazine capacity. All other rifles and their ammunition are permitted with no limits as to magazine size, to include: target shooting, hunting, and historic and muzzle-loading weapons, as well as long barrelled breachloading pistols with a specific overall length, but not for self-defence; however if a home-owner is threatened they may be used in self-defence, so long as the force is reasonable. Shotgun possession and use is controlled, and even low-power air rifles and pistols, while permitted, are controlled to some extent. A Firearm Certificate issued by the police is required for all weapons and ammunition except air weapons of modest power (of muzzle energy not over 12 ft·lbf (16 J) for rifles, and 6 ft·lbf (8.1 J) for pistols). Shotguns with a capacity of three rounds or less (up to guns with a magazine holding no more than two rounds, in addition to one in the chamber) are subject to less stringent licensing requirements than other firearms and require a shotgun certificate; shotguns with higher capacity require a Firearm Certificate.

Possession of a live firearms round can lead to severe penalties. Live firearms ammunition, other than most shotgun ammunition, may only be purchased and possessed with the authority of a Firearm Certificate. Shotgun cartridges can be possessed by anybody over the age of 15 but no licence is required to hold such ammunition so long as the cartridges contain 5 or more shots. However, a licence covering possession of a firearm capable of firing shotgun ammunition is required for purchase.

The droning tropes of the NRA — if you outlaw guns and only outlaws will have guns, guns don’t kill people, people do, to name a few — must be met with deaf ears, If we can regulate everything from automobiles to soda pop, surely we can come up with new laws and regulations that make it harder for mass murderers and garden variety killers to obtain firearms. I see no justifiable reason for Americans to own semi-automatic, high capacity magazine military-style weapons, nor do I see any reason for ordinary citizens to have access to concealed carry permits.

Nicholas Kristof had this to say today about the Las Vegas massacre:

After the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas, the impulse of politicians will be to lower flags, offer moments of silence, and lead a national mourning. Yet what we need most of all isn’t mourning, but action to lower the toll of guns in America.

We don’t need to simply acquiesce to this kind of slaughter. When Australia suffered a mass shooting in 1996, the country united behind tougher laws on firearms. As a result, the gun homicide rate was almost halved, and the gun suicide rate dropped by half, according to the Journal of Public Health Policy.

Skeptics will say that there are no magic wands and that laws can’t make the carnage go away. To some extent, they’re right. Some criminals will always be able to obtain guns, especially in a country like America that is awash with 300 million firearms. We are always likely to have higher gun death rates than Europe.

But the scale is staggering. Since 1970, more Americans have died from guns (including suicides, murders and accidents) than the sum total of all the Americans who died in all the wars in American history, back to the American Revolution. Every day, some 92 Americans die from guns, and American kids are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other developed countries, according to David Hemenway of Harvard.

So while there’s no magic wand available, here are some steps we could take that would, collectively, make a difference:

1. Impose universal background checks for anyone buying a gun. Four out of five Americans support this measure, to prevent criminals or terrorists from obtaining guns.

2. Impose a minimum age limit of 21 on gun purchases. This is already the law for handgun purchases in many states, and it mirrors the law on buying alcohol.

3. Enforce a ban on possession of guns by anyone subject to a domestic violence protection order. This is a moment when people are upset and prone to violence against their exes.

4. Limit gun purchases by any one person to no more than, say, two a month, and tighten rules on straw purchasers who buy for criminals. Make serial numbers harder to remove.

5. Adopt microstamping of cartridges so that they can be traced to the gun that fired them, useful for solving gun crimes.

6. Invest in “smart gun” purchases by police departments or the U.S. military, to promote their use. Such guns require a PIN or can only be fired when near a particular bracelet or other device, so that children cannot misuse them and they are less vulnerable to theft. The gun industry made a childproof gun in the 1800’s but now resists smart guns.

7. Require safe storage, to reduce theft, suicide and accidents by children.

8. Invest in research to see what interventions will be more effective in reducing gun deaths. We know, for example, that alcohol and guns don’t mix, but we don’t know precisely what laws would be most effective in reducing the resulting toll. Similar investments in reducing other kinds of accidental deaths have been very effective.

These are all modest steps, and I can’t claim that they would have an overwhelming effect. But public health experts think it’s plausible that a series of well-crafted safety measures like these could reduce gun deaths by one-third—or more than 10,000 a year.

It’s too soon to know what, if anything, might have prevented the shooting in Las Vegas, and it may be that nothing could have prevented it. In some ways, these mass shootings are anomalies: Most gun deaths occur in ones or twos, usually with handguns (which kill far more people than assault rifles), and suicides outnumber murders.

But in every other sphere, we at least use safety regulations to try — however imperfectly — to reduce death and injury.

In every other sphere, we at least use safety regulations to try to reduce death and injury, Kristof said, and he is exactly right. We need to do something besides sending up more meaningless thoughts and prayers. Change requires forceful, meaningful, bipartisan action. And if our elected officials refuse to act, we need to shame them out of office, replacing them with legislators that put people over ideology and value saving lives over collecting donations.

I am not anti-gun. For many years, I was a gun owner. My brother is a retired police officer, and my father was an auxiliary sheriff’s deputy. My father was a lifelong gun owner and seller. Dad owned a gun store in Arizona, and frequented gun shows to buy and sell firearms. As a teenager, I manned many a gun show sales table. I am sympathetic towards private gun ownership. That said, I am also sickened by the carnage and havoc perpetrated by people who were able to buy firearms and ammo with minimal or no regulation. Nineteen children a day are wounded or killed by firearms. In 2013, there were 73,505 nonfatal firearm injuries and 33,636 deaths due to “injury by firearms” — more deaths than by car accident.  Enough of the carnage! No more thoughts and prayers! It’s time for action. The NRA will certainly object, but it is time for thoughtful, caring Americans to ignore their protestations, and work towards putting an end to gun violence.

moreRead more by Bruce Gerencser

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Storm

    Absolutely fantastic article once again, Bruce.

    Just a slight nitpick, with “NRA crazies” – can we maybe avoid the ableist term? Plenty of creative ways to disparage those who worship the second amendment without resorting to that.

  • Nightshade

    ‘If we can regulate everything from automobiles to soda pop…’ YES!!! For FSM’s sake, alcohol and cigarette sales are regulated, but people keep using them. I don’t think very many Americans would favor wide-spread government confiscation of guns, but regulation does not equal taking away.

    Aaaaand that ‘thoughts and prayers’ thing is driving me nuts lately. People thinking and praying isn’t the problem, feel free to do all you like, folks. But try doing something useful, and add thoughts and prayers to actions, instead of the other way around, or worse, not even trying to fix things. God doesn’t seem to care, so it’s up to us.

  • Mel

    A few additional points for discussions with gun-freedom folks:

    – The NRA may well have been a group of citizen-sportsmen at some time in the past, but it has become the major lobbying arm of gun manufacturers. This explains how the NRA can fund massive pressure on Congress when they have a membership of 7% of the 36% of Americans who own guns or live in a household with guns = 2.5% of Americans. The NRA’s goal isn’t to nobly defend our right to bear arms; it is to drum up business – like Big Tobacco. That’s why the NRA is pro-large magazine, automatic, assault rifles; it’s much more profitable to convince people that they need 5 AK-47s to defend themselves from the coming of Big Government than trying to convince people that the deer hunting rifle that’s been passed down two generations and still works fine should be replaced or doubled.

    – In terms of preventing government intrusion, bombs and bomb making materials are much more effective as evidenced by every insurrection in the last 100 years – but we regulate explosives heavily and the much less effective guns much more lightly. (And no, I do not think we should loosen explosive regulations.)

    -The vast majority of gun owners support strengthening gun laws since we buy guns legally, keep them registered and use either single-shot or semi-automatic guns with small magazines. After all, “needing” a fully-automatic gun with a huge magazine means you are a horrible shot and need to spend more time on target practice. Plus, we have no interest in being gunned down by the next disgruntled white guy.

  • Linda JJ

    Sorry if other JBS members violated your comment policy but as a long time Bircher I can say definitely that the JBS never supported Wallace (the JBS has never endorsed a single political candidate in 60 years even when its own members are running to be re-elected as governors, senators, congressmen, state reps, state senators, etc). In fact the JBS even strips membership of its members such as Congressman Schmitz is they express racism, bigotry hate or anti-Semitism. The JBS never aligned itself with racism either. During much of the civil rights era, most of its speakers bureau was black! The California Senate investigated and found in its official report that the JBS opposed racism in all forms. Anyway, I hope I didn’t violate the comment policy but as a Bircher I wanted to make sure to set the record straight. I’ll be happy to post links supporting this if the moderators will allow me. You can find the California Senate report using any search engine.

  • SAO

    It’s perfectly legal to amass an arsenal of semi-automatic weapons, as long as you don’t buy too many at once. It’s perfectly legal to stock pile ammunition. It’s perfectly legal to upgrade those semi-automatic weapons to fully automatic, firing 9 bullets/second, 540 bullets/minute. The Las Vegas police took 13 minutes to stop the shooter, which is pretty darn fast. At 540 bullets/minute, that’s over 7,000 bullets fired. In under 15 minutes, the shooter killed nearly 60 people and wounded over 500.

    Now, is there any purpose other than mass murder for amassing an arsenal of assault weapons? For upgrading semi-automatics to fully automatics? No!

    Instead of preventing more tragedies, Congress is considering a bill that will allow people to more easily buy silencers, so that victims won’t know where the bullets are coming from. The citizens of Nevada voted to close the gun show loophole so that all gun sales require a background check. The Nevada state government has not implemented that law and appears to have no intention of doing so. Trump revoked an Obama regulation preventing anyone with severe mental illness from buying a gun. Gun registrations have to be kept on paper, ATF is not allowed to computerize them so that they can see when someone starts to amass an arsenal. In short, every single red flag the Las Vegas shooter ran up his flagpole have been prevented or discouraged from being seen.

    The NRA spends more than $58 Million in campaign contributions, lobbying, etc. each year, most of it goes to Republicans.

    And if you think gun ownership is important to allow citizens to defend themselves, it’s worth noting that ‘accidental firearm deaths’ per year is twice as high as deaths deemed to be ‘justifiable homicide.’

  • Almost a chimp

    How many gun owners are members of a ‘well-regulated militia’? That is, after all, the reason the right to bear arms was written into the constitution, but also the most conveniently ignored part of the 2nd.

  • But there are JBS-like QF/P folks who believe that the government doesn’t have the right to tell them to get a license to drive, so they drive without one. I know of a bunch of families that aren’t too far away from where Bruce lives who store guns and gold and believe that the government has no rights over marriage or car licensure or anything else. They live by the higher law. (Yeah, right.)

    It’s insanity.

  • Nightshade

    It really is insane. Guess their Bible is missing Romans 13.

  • The John Birch Society opposed the Civil Rights Act, along with the Equal Rights Amendment. The Society supported the candidacy of Barry Goldwater, and according to Wikipedia the Society supported George Wallace. The Society will argue that their focus was on communism, but it’s hard to believe that there was no racial component to it. Perhaps the issue here is the difference between official policy and how things really were on the ground. Groups like to hide behind official policies, when what is going on on the ground at the local level is very different. Racism among white Christian nationalists who preached the gospel of American exceptionalism and manifest destiny was the norm, not the exception. Do you really think these people checked their racism st the door when they joined the John Birch Society?

    https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2013/bringing-back-birch

  • Linda JJ

    Most Democrats opposed the civil rights act. Most JBS speakers opposeing the CRA Act were BLACK! Will you call them racist? ROFL! The Society has never endorsed a political candidate in its history. Don’t trust Wikipedia, obviously.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    bye!