I should have said it after those 20 first graders were slaughtered at Sandy Hook. Or after those gentle church people were gunned down during Bible study in Charleston. Or after the ceaseless slaughter of any one of the more than a million of my fellow Americans who have been sacrificed upon the altar of the Right to Bear Arms over the course of my not-so-long lifetime. Yes, more than a million. If all of the victims of gun violence in America over the past half century were resurrected from the dead and gathered together in one place, that place would be the 5th-largest city in the nation. Bigger than Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, Dallas or San Francisco. Bigger than the population of 11 states. In fact, more people have been killed by guns in the United States since 1968 than on all the battlefields of all the wars in American history combined. On an average day, over 30 Americans—seven of them children or teenagers—are murdered with guns. There is a very good chance that someone somewhere in this country was shot while you’re reading this.
I should have said it so many times before but I am saying it now—America needs to declare total war on guns, and that means repealing the Second Amendment. There is no sane reason why you or I should be granted the sacred and inviolable right to bear pistols, shotguns, automatic rifles, submachine guns, machine guns, flamethrowers, grenade launchers, anti-tank guns and other “hunting and self-defense tools.” It just doesn’t make any sense in the face of so much endless bloodshed.
America has waged all-out war for much lesser reasons. It launched a massive invasion and occupation of a nation which committed no offense against it, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths, the world’s biggest refugee crisis and the rise of the most monstrous terrorist group in memory on the flimsiest of evidence of a non-existent threat. When I was a kid, it sent thousands of troops to invade a tiny Caribbean island to “rescue” a handful of American students who didn’t need any rescuing.
Well, we certainly need rescuing now. More than 100,000 Americans have been killed by guns since Sandy Hook and we are no closer to solving, or even honestly confronting, the problem. While Americans consistently rank Islamist terrorism as their number one concern—ahead of the economy and even the existential planetary threat of climate change, a recent Gallup poll found that gun control ranks 22nd among perceived national problems, with only 2 percent rating it as their most important issue.
Since Sandy Hook, fewer than 100 Americans have been killed by Islamist terrorism, including today’s massacre in Orlando. You’re more likely to die from falling furniture, or at the tiny hands of an armed toddler, than by a jihadist. Yet America has deployed its military forces to nearly every corner of the world, invading, bombing, droning and occupying half a dozen nations, killing and maiming at least hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children, spying on billions of phone calls and emails, and dangerously eroding civil liberties at home in the name of fighting Islamic extremism. America wages a devastating global war on terror to combat a threat that has killed no more than a few thousand of its own throughout history while allowing the wholesale slaughter of more than a million of its own people under the guise of protected constitutional rights at home.
We must act swiftly and decisively if we are to end this perfectly preventable epidemic from claiming any more lives. But how? We are told it would be an insurmountable task to repeal a single part of our constitution, even though we’ve done it before. Twice. We were also told that we couldn’t go to the moon but we did, and ahead of schedule. It helps to ask who’s saying it can’t be done. You’ll find the usual suspects, chief among them the National Rifle Association and its shameless CEO (yes, CEO; the business of death is very big business indeed), who didn’t even wait until all of the Sandy Hook victims were buried before calling on Americans to respond to out-of-control gun violence by buying more guns. The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun, the NRA tells us, is with a good guy with a gun.
And so we come to accept shelter-in-place drills for our kids, gun violence announcements in movie theaters and horrific massacres with ever-increasing death tolls as the new normal. We resign ourselves to what we have come to believe is the inevitable. We blame mental health, violent video games, movies and music, or Islam. We blame everything and anything and anyone—witness Texas’ homophobic lieutenant governor Dan Patrick disgustingly tweeting that “God cannot be mocked; we reap what we sow” as young men and women, so full of life and love, lay dying in Orlando—but the true and obvious culprit. Obvious to the entire world beyond America’s borders, that is.
After 9/11, I gradually came to understand that Americans had the power to end Islamist terror attacks against us through honest self-reflection and by electing leaders who would end or dramatically alter policies and actions that caused so much death and suffering throughout the Muslim world. Surely this could be accomplished by a free people acting with all necessary immediacy and resolve. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, killing a relative handful of our troops, America mobilized for total war and raised up the mightiest military force the world has ever known—harnessing the very power of the atom for victory—to defeat the three most powerful fascist regimes on earth. When the Soviet Union launched a little beeping ball into space, America got to work and shot to the moon just so the Russians didn’t get there first.
But when 30 Americans are killed by guns day after day after bloody day, we resign ourselves to the inevitable, a little bit number and a little bit dumber each time we say “there’s nothing we can do,” mindlessly parroting “Second Amendment” in the face of the latest massacre du jour. Well, just as We the People get the government we deserve through our choices on election day, so too do we reap what we sow when we refuse to even consider the most rudimentary and logical of steps to stem the bloodshed caused by our national obsession with guns.
We have the power to end the epidemic of gun violence in America, but we choose not to, just as we have the power to end Islamist terrorist violence against us but instead elect leaders who choose to increase the likelihood of future attacks through their provocative policies and actions. Just as Islamist militants almost never attack countries that don’t attack them, nations which have enacted stringent gun control measures almost never suffer from the sort of sickening slaughter that has become such an unavoidable part of our American experience. When we possess the power to affect positive change that will save millions of lives but fail to act, we have nobody but ourselves to blame.
We must repeal the Second Amendment. Yes, I know how difficult that will be. I would even go so far as to call for a Second Constitutional Convention; something is inherently and perversely amiss in a document that guarantees citizens the right to weapons of war but not food, housing, healthcare or education. Until we resolve to forfeit the absurd “right” that has caused so much loss and suffering in our society, the blood of every fresh gun violence victim is on our collective hands. In failing to act, we show the world that we deserve more Sandy Hooks, more Charlestons, more Orlando nightclub massacres. We deserve each and every one of the more than 30,000 gun deaths we register each year, because most of these would not occur if we only had the courage to do what must be done. The question, then, isn’t “how many more have to die?” Rather, it is “how many more will I let die.”