I should have said it after those 20 first graders were slaughtered at Sandy Hook. Or after all those beautiful young revelers were massacred last year in an Orlando nightclub. 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 reinterpreting or repealing the Second Amendment. The latter would be best. 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. But we must be realistic, and in this gun-sick society repeal still seems like a bridge too far.
Some may accuse me of hyperbole when I say we need a war on guns. But 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, and all based on the flimsiest 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 130,000 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. You’re more likely to be killed by falling furniture, or by 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.
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 dead and dying after last year’s Pulse nightclub massacre 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.
Not only have we failed to take meaningful action to curb gun violence, the Trump administration has branded itself as the most pro-Second Amendment administration ever, and the current Republican-controlled Congress voted earlier this year to repealObama-era rules meant to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people like the one who slaughtered at least 50 people in Las Vegas last night. Trump then signed the measure into law.
Instead of making it easier for mass-murdering psychopaths to amass arsenals, we must have the courage to reinterpret or repeal the Second Amendment. Three little words — “well regulated militia” — need to be rediscovered and given the weight they deserve and once had; the individual right to bear arms so many conservatives hold holy has only been definitely affirmed in recent decades, following a well-orchestrated campaign by the National Rifle Association and the conservative politicians it pays to elect.
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. Instead of repealing and replacing Obamacare, we would do better to repeal a “right” whose cost is counted in tens of thousands of American lives each year.
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 Las Vegas 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.”