When news broke of the murders at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on Aug. 5, people of all faiths and backgrounds and the first responders who came to the scene to help were horrified by the ambush on men and women as they prepared for worship services. Leaders across the country quickly denounced the hate crime and the FBI immediately began investigating the attack as a possible case of domestic terrorism.
But as easy as it was for all of us to be outraged by another senseless attack and heartbroken by the congregation’s stories, it was difficult to be surprised by how it took place again in a nation unwilling to curb guns designed just to kill lots of people in the hands of lawless people. Would this have happened without a semi-automatic gun and high-capacity clips of bullets?
The shootings at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin came only two weeks after James Holmes killed 12 people and injured 58 others at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in one of the worst mass shootings in American history. Would this have happened without an AR-15 assault rifle, a Remington 870 12-gauge shot gun, and a semi-automatic handgun with high-capacity clips of bullets?
Every time another mass shooting happens in the United States, the debate over gun control comes fleetingly to the forefront—until political fear paralyzes courage and action. Inevitably, some people repeat the argument that the solution to preventing mass shootings is not better gun control laws—even control of assault weapons which have no place in nonmilitary hands—but getting even more Americans armed.
The apparent fantasy result would be something straight out of Hollywood where every single time a bad person stands up with a gun a good person with their own gun would quickly rise up out of the crowd, shoot the bad person, and save the day.
Gun violence epidemic
But arguments like this ignore both common sense and scientific evidence about the connection between the ready availability of guns—including assault weapons and guns with large ammunition capacity—and the epidemic of gun violence in America.
Daniel W. Webster, professor and co-director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and a panelist at the Children’s Defense Fund’s recent conference, wrote after the Aurora shootings: “We should not brush aside discussions of gun policy as too politically difficult to expect meaningful change, or ‘the price for our freedoms.’ Instead, we should reflect on why the U.S. has a murder rate that is nearly seven times higher than the average murder rate in other high-income countries and a nearly 20 times higher murder rate with guns.’’
It is way past time for common-sense gun law reform in America.
Many of the victims of mass shootings have been strangers—sometimes children—who were personally unknown to the shooters but were simply in “the wrong place at the wrong time,” even if the “wrong place” turned out to be going to class, attending a worship service on a Sunday morning, or going to the local movie theater on a summer evening. In other words, they could have been any one of us.
What will it take for us to do something about it?
Marian Wright Edelman is president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund (www.childrensdefense.org).