Maybe the most disheartening fallout during this sad time has been a terrible, empty sense of futility.
We feel helpless. We feel there are no good antidotes to the savagery that erupted in a little Texas church last Sunday, and at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas in October, and on an ever-growing list of similar atrocities.
A vocal chorus on one side takes the dark view that we’re surrounded by monsters, that no place is safe, that every church or preschool or movie house is a potential target for mass killers. It’s an every-man-for-himself hellscape out there, and our only shot at survival is to arm ourselves as heavily as possible.
On the other side is the equally bleak view that no reduction in the shameful incidence of American gun violence is possible. The political will for strategic change does not exist; it never will exist; we are doomed to an ever-increasing body count because we are incapable of change.
That’s a sobering level of bipartisan disillusionment, one that makes it awfully tempting to turn away and think about something else. Whaddaya gonna do?
I can’t say in detail what we can our should specifically do. But I am convinced that “nothing” is not the right answer. “Nothing” is too cynical, too dystopian. It’s disconcertingly irreligious and un-American.
Besides, broad-based social change is possible. It’s been done before.
“I just don’t believe there are no logical responses” to the statistical incidence of gun violence, says Margaret Collins. Now retired, Collins served for a decade as the executive director of the Dallas chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Collins believes the successful strategy MADD employed to reduce drunken driving wrecks could serve as a template for gun reform. No single sweeping, draconian overhaul, but persistent, incremental change, with a willingness to try fresh tactics and keep only the ones that work.
“Yes, drunk driving still exists, but deaths have decreased dramatically,” Collins wrote in a Facebook post that caught my attention recently. “A similar approach to gun deaths would result in fewer deaths.”
That approach embraces a slow, steady change in public attitudes and behavior.
“Better laws like no AR-15s would be a good start. Required insurance for gun owners is a no-brainer,” Collins suggests. And, she says, let’s discuss mandatory requirements for “smart guns,” which would ensure weapons aren’t fired by the wrong people. The technology already exists.
Better systems for background checks, tighter enforcement of prohibitions of gun ownership on people convicted of domestic violence or other crimes involving impulse and aggression. The list of proposed reforms offers a lot to work with.
Yes, we’re all awfully used to the gloomy chorus that reflexively responds that none of this will work - “bad people will always get guns” - let’s consider that fewer bad people getting guns would be a start.
“None of these would eliminate gun deaths, but it might reduce the carnage,” Collins says.
“People are still going to kill other people, but maybe they’d only be able to kill two or three people, instead of 26” - a deliberate reference to the Sutherland Springs church murder.
The careful strategy MADD employed - incremental but steady legislative reforms, a spotlight on victims of drunken drivers, a push for police enforcement and prosecution of existing laws - all combined to create dramatic change. Over the last 35 years, U.S. alcohol-related traffic fatalities have dropped by more than 50 percent.
Don’t stop me if you’re heard this before, because I plan to keep saying it: The first step is to abandon our deliberate ignorance. Without government-funded public health research into specific antidotes for gun violence, this entire debate rests on hot air and wishful thinking.
Somehow, we have been beaten down to a point where just referring to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in conjunction with the scourge of gun deaths sparks a shrill accusation that we’re “politicizing” the issue.
Well, if we’re talking fewer innocent dead people - babies, students, moms and dads, ordinary people going about their lives - let’s, by all means, make it political. Yes, we have Second Amendment rights; we also have the unalienable right to our lives enshrined in another of our foundational documents.
Mass murder, as frighteningly commonplace as it seems, remains statistically rare. But if our mutual abhorrence of these events leads to measures that reduce “everyday” gun deaths and injuries - domestic murders, gang killings, pointless drunks-with-guns shootings - we will be safer, stronger, more confident.
Whether you’re a gun owner or not, living in a fog of cynicism and fear is a dismaying departure from our national tradition.
We have a serious problem, and it needs a solution. Or, as Collins suggests, a carefully considered series of incremental solutions.
But “there’s nothing we can do” is too lazy, too easy, too fatalistic. “Nothing” is the wrong answer.