IT'S JUST COLLATERAL DAMAGE

I was sitting in a bar one day several years ago - no, I wasn't drinking; I was waiting for a food take-out order - and Newt Gingrich was on TV, being interviewed by Wolf Blitzer. I was stunned to find that I was actually agreeing with something Newt said - I am pretty much positive that it was a "first." 

   The discussion was about  the massacre of school children in Connecticut, and all the resulting discourse about "gun control." Newt opined that background checks and psychological evaluations of potential gun purchasers would do nothing to prevent such future carnage. He's correct, I think. I think the same can be said for putting more armed guards in schools, arming teachers and principals, and restricting the amount of violence on TV, in movies, and in video games.

   In most cases, the massacres that occur in this country have two things in common: first, they are entirely unpredictable as to where and when they will occur. Small towns and big cities are equally vulnerable; if the latest murder spree was in Connecticut, the next may be in North Dakota, California, or Mississippi. Make every school in the country an armed camp, and the next massacre will be in a movie theater, or at a sports event, or in a church.

   Second, the shooters in most of the cases to date were not "gun nuts" - some didn't even own their own guns - and, while some of them were - after the fact - considered a little bit "weird," "loners," "withdrawn," "alienated," etc., most would probably not have been diagnosed as "mentally ill." Since some didn't even use their own guns, "psych evaluations" at the time of gun purchase would have been irrelevant.

   There is only one thing that allows mass killings, and that is access to the types of weapons that are capable of quickly killing masses. Since - despite what the most rabid probably call a violation of "Second Amendment rights" - we don't allow individuals to have nuclear weapons, Sarin gas, and other "weapons of mass destruction," the mass killing weapons available to your average mass murderer are what are generally considered "assault rifles." We can kill two or three people with a revolver, rifle or shotgun (and often do in the United States: about 10 gun-caused deaths per 100,000 people, compared to 2 or less in most of what is considered the "developed" or "industrialized" world). Killing more than that before losing your target or being apprehended is tough, unless you have a weapon capable of firing continuously over a period of time. Fortunately (if you are a potential mass murderer), in the United States you don't even have to own your own weapon; you can just borrow somebody else's.  Apparently nobody knows how many semi-automatic and assault-type rifles are currently in the United States, but by National Rifle Association figures (compiled for the 2009 court case Heller vs. District of Columbia) 1.6 million were produced in the U. S. - and not exported out of the country - between 1986 and 2007. Additional to that number were many foreign-made weapons that were sold in the U. S. during that time period. We already had quite a few on hand - an estimate cited by Slate.com was of 1.5 million assault rifles privately-owned in the United States in 1994. The number added by post-911 hysteria, and by fear that The Government was going to make guns hard to acquire because of recent massacres, has increased private ownership substantially . Anyone who really wants to create mayhem can get the job done without personally going through background checks or psych evaluations.

   By choice, America has become an armed camp. By choice, any meaningful attempt at firearm regulation - or even reasoned discussion of the subject - has been defeated. By choice, Americans like violent movies and video games. As a nation, we are what we have made ourselves. I don't think there is any chance of any of that changing.  But if we want to do something to reduce the number of senseless massacres, we have an easy choice - we just make ACCESS to assault-type firearms difficult. Civilians don't need them for sport hunting; Americans don't need them to protect themselves from their own Government; even gun manufacturers don't really need us to buy them - there are plenty of potential buyers in South America, Central America, Africa, and the Middle East. Regulation of "assault rifles" and the ammunition that goes with them is the only type of "gun control" that our firearms-obsessed nation could ever buy into.

   If we can't do that, then I suggest we stop making such a big deal on the news about mass murders of children, theatergoers, college students, and other innocents. Treat such events the same way we do all the other senseless and unnecessary gun violence we're subjected to every day. After all, it really is just collateral damage resulting from our chosen way of life.


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