America’s Gun Culture Kills People

When I was in my early teens, I used to go shooting with my dad at the NRA headquarters range in Fairfax, VA. It was fun: I wasn’t half-bad at using a small .22 marksman rifle with open sights to get dime-to-quarter sized groups at 50 yards (though I have a weird right-handed left-eye dominant thing that I never quite got comfortable with). Later, at friends’ houses, in the countryside way out beyond Manassas, we’d sometimes shoot at cans and whatnot. They are happy memories.
The point is, I’m not unfamiliar with guns, or shooting them, or with basic gun safety. One of the things I lament about the NRAs transformation over the last 20 years is its move away from advocating for gun safety and training, toward blind partisanship and proliferation.
Yesterday we had another stark reminder of the costs of the NRA’s advocacy of gun proliferation in America, as a young man picked up the gun he had checked into his baggage and murdered five people and wounded more at the baggage claim of a busy airport. I happened to be at the Ft. Lauderdale airport yesterday, transiting for a vacation, and I was caught in the crush of people running in terror from Terminal 2 as Esteban Santiago began his rampage.
It was upsetting, to say the least. But I’m also glad the police responded as quickly as they did. When I was deployed as a civilian adviser in Afghanistan in 2009 several soldiers offered to give a sidearm (a pistol, really), in case we were attacked on a patrol and I’d need to shoot back. I declined those offers — I am not trained to behave properly in combat, and despite my knowledge of how to properly sight and reload a P228, I do not think I would have been a constructive presence doing anything beyond hiding behind cover during a firefight.
See, I’m knowledgable enough about guns to know when I have no business using one (that is to say, outside of a shooting range or a very tightly controlled environment). Similarly, I do not harbor fantasies of a OK Corral shootout with a mass killer, and I also know that the first police responders would not be able to tell me apart from the shooter if I, somehow, happened to have had access to a gun yesterday — they probably would have shot or arrested me, along with the actual killer, just to be sure. More guns do not equal more safety, and a good guy with a gun would not have prevented tragedy at the airport.
Beyond the posturing and slogans, this is the hard truth behind America’s gun culture: it does not prevent mass murder, and it makes mass murder a helluva lot easier than it should be. Other countries have to face mass violence, but America is unique in how its political culture is oriented around proliferating, rather than controlling, access to weapons. It strikes me as madness.
I’m not even sure there is a legal remedy that would have prevented yesterday’s rampage, apart from a dramatic curtailment of firearms ownership. Much like other mass killers, Esteban Santiago was known to the FBI to have some markers of delusions of persecution, but there wasn’t any legal way to restrict his access to weaponry, because that is something Americans simply do not want. We, as a people, love our guns so much we are perfectly happy to tolerate routine incidents of mass murder in order to have them. I’m sure there is a common thread in there, of wanting our cake and to eat it as well, but it is what it is.
This mass shooting, and every other mass shooting we experience, is preventable. We are the only developed country that has this epidemic of mass murder with controllable classes of weapons. But we don’t want to stop them. As a people, we have chosen that dozens of mass murders a year are a perfectly acceptable cost for an extremist interpretation of the second amendment of the constitution.
Beyond mourning what happened here yesterday, beyond all the grief that I’m sure will pop up in the comments for my condemning America’s murderous gun culture, the simple fact that we, as a people, make such high-minded claims to value life and value each other, simply do not care about murder victims, makes me deeply sad.
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