Durham News: Opinion

Rob Schofield: The gun situation is not hopeless

America’s mass murder crisis is a terrifying phenomenon. It’s gotten to the point at which the supposedly freest country in the world has become, in some horrifically depressing ways, a 300 million person prison.

When our schoolchildren and their teachers, mall and theater employees and government workers must, increasingly, prepare for the sudden appearance of heavily armed sociopaths bent on mass murder a regular part of their daily lives, something has gone tragically wrong in society.

What’s more the response of politicians since the San Bernardino massacre has not been encouraging.

Two decades ago, after their country experienced a horrific mass murder, the people of Australia enacted strong laws that greatly restricted gun purchases and put in place a gun buyback program that removed roughly one out of every five guns in the country from circulation. The country has had no mass murders since.

Here, such simple and common-sense solutions seem fanciful. Indeed, if some Second Amendment absolutists had their way, the country would be awash in vastly more weapons than it already is – assault weapons, machine guns, bazookas, bombs – you name it.

And still, as hopeless as the situation may seem at times, there is reason to believe that the current spasm of gun madness is more likely to be the last loud and prolonged gasp of a dying culture of death than the onset of a long, dark chapter of perpetual terror. Here are five reasons for optimism – some obvious and familiar but worth reiterating and some you may not have considered:

▪ Public opinion – Despite the wealth and power of the gun lobby (the gun industry and its confused allies in the NRA and other such groups), Americans remain overwhelmingly in favor of stronger gun laws. Even here in the South, where gun ownership is more deeply embedded in the culture, polls show that large majorities favor stronger laws. This is true even of gun owners. Even in the corrupt, pay-to-play, post-Citizens United world of modern American politics, such numbers cannot be resisted indefinitely.

▪ Changing demographics – Things do not figure to get any better for the gun absolutists in the years ahead. As the U.S. becomes a majority-minority and ever-more-urbanized nation, public opinion is sure to bend more and more toward support of sane regulation. Add to this the simple fact that, despite the mad paranoia of some Obama haters, overall gun ownership rates have been trending downward for some time (and the fact that young people and people of color tend to own fewer guns) and there is still more reason for optimism.

▪ Global trends – As more and more people are becoming aware, the United States is an extreme outlier when it comes to guns and mass killings – especially among the major industrialized countries. In a shrinking and ever more closely connected planet in which national borders matter less and less, it strains the imagination to believe that it will remain this way in perpetuity – especially if the U.S. wants to continue to claim moral authority as a global leader.

▪ Modern communications technology and shifting public attitudes toward violence – One of the most important and positive results of the explosion in the availability of smartphones and the video recordings they produce in recent years has been the widespread public revulsion it has generated toward several police shootings. The same is true of modern communications technology generally. Simply put: When people see the horror of murder in living color, they are sickened by it and demand action. This cannot be good for opponents of sane gun laws.

▪ Advancing weapons technology – The Second Amendment was written more than two centuries ago when “bearing arms” meant keeping a musket by the fireside. Soon, technological advances will, absent sane regulations, make killing machines that would have once been imagined only in science fiction (machines that will make assault weapons seem quaint) readily available to the masses. Unless Americans want to embrace some kind of horrific, post-apocalyptic, Mad Max on steroids existence, this is clearly not a sustainable path for society.

Desperate as the current situation seems, all hope is not lost. There’s a heck of a lot of hard work (not to mention a lot more senseless tragedy) ahead, but if Americans want to preserve civil society as we know it, they can, must and will eventually act to end the gun madness.

Rob Schofield is the director of Research at N.C. Policy Watch. Tell us what you think about today’s commentary at editor@newsobserver.com. Please include your name if you want your comments considered for publication. Thank you.