Just a few days over one month ago, a mass shooting took place in Las Vegas. We were assured that “now is not the time to talk about gun control.” Now a horrific shooting has taken place in a small church in Texas. Starting with the very top of our national leadership, we are again told that now is not the time to talk about guns.
Okay, when is the time? And, yes, I’m familiar with the claim that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. But they do it, all too often, with guns. If the Texas murderer had been armed with knives, or axes, or bow and arrow, he could not possibly have committed the kind of bloodbath he produced. And to the folks who keep saying the solution is to arm more of us, I can only ask, are you for real? Do you really think the toll would have been less if every adult in the small sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, had, while trying simultaneously to duck and protect loved ones, pulled a sidearm and tried to take out the attacker? If so, I can only say you are nuts.
Lawmakers, supported by their constituents, can cooperate to try to figure out some sensible measures to reduce the gun violence while not infringing upon the rights of the vast majority, reasonable people. Or they can wait until the flow of human blood becomes a flood, and a wave of revulsion forces restrictions on gun ownership far beyond what might be workable now.
I am by nature a professional-class procrastinator. But even I, always tempted to put off till tomorrow what I’m not forced to do today, have learned the danger of delay. Putting off the difficult and distasteful, at the highest level of government, has left stains on our national character and persistent echoes that disrupt our lives. The founding fathers, faced with the intractable evil of slavery, and finding no way to settle the issue while forming a new nation, kicked the can down the road. Maybe it was not possible to arrange even a gradual elimination of human bondage. Or maybe a little more effort then would have prevented the bloodiest war in our history later, and the lingering bitterness we’re still faced with today.
The habit of procrastination is seductive and denial is cheap. Like coping with climate change, a problem that is difficult, divisive, costly, and therefore easier to deny than to solve, mass murder with guns and the outsize impact of the gun lobby are major puzzles that must be solved without restricting the rights of citizens in general. If we leave the problem for our children and grandchildren, there may not be enough of them left to solve it.
If mental illness is what drives these killers of innocent men, women, and children, we have a long way to go in figuring out how to identify and restrict them while being fair to the vast majority who cause no harm. In the meantime, maybe we could work to moderate the gun mentality and culture that aids these killers who are changing us into a society of potential victims, planning our escape routes and viewing others with concern while trying to enjoy the simple pleasures of daily life that are our right.
It’s easy to blame our politicians, whom many describe as cowardly because they are unwilling to face facts and challenge the gun lobby and those who demand ever more guns. Doing so, of course, will guarantee their oblivion. Ultimately, the voters rule, a fact every politician understands. So, to paraphrase Shakespeare’s Cassius, the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our politicians but in ourselves.
Robert B. Simpson, a 28-year Infantry veteran who retired as a colonel at Fort Benning, is the author of “Through the Dark Waters: Searching for Hope and Courage.”