groundhog day

I want to talk about guns, but let’s talk about hate first.

We do this thing, as a society, where we start calling someone a terrorist, and that makes it really easy to think of them as some kind of alien.  A terrorist materialized in our midst and caused great suffering.  In our lexicon, terrorist is basically the antonym of American.

But the majority of these shooters are Americans, born and raised.  Most of them white.  They speak English.  They had jobs, cars, phones, bills.  They lived in our society for decades.  Often we hear every variation on the phrase “we never would have suspected” from friends and family.  And I bet most of them weren’t lying.

We’re so hung up on ISIS and Islam.  But maybe this guy, and the guys before him, just followed the lead of our culture, the examples of our role models and aspiring leaders.  We had 29 years to talk this guy out of it.  He spent his life in America.  Maybe he learned his hatred from us.

Can we not find daily examples of homophobia broadcast across all channels of life?  This last year has seen the campaigns of Cruz, Rubio, and Carson – people actively denying basic truths about sexual identity and promoting draconian ideals about gender and sexuality. More explicitly anti-LGBT laws have been proposed in state legislatures this year than ever before.

Why should we be surprised when someone takes to heart the messages from our society that some people are less deserving of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

Here’s the thing, though.  We can talk about what this shooting means for our culture and social progress, but there is an established trend.  The shootings are getting worse.  They’re deadlier, more frequent, and more heinous.  Every demographic has been targeted at this point.

We’ve run the gamut of explanations. Mental illness. Racism. Fundamentalism. Anti-religion. Homophobia. Maybe we can explain this one shooter’s motivations, and we can paint a reasonable picture of where he got his ideas from.  But that does not get us closer to preventing the next mass murder.

Is there any reason to believe this won’t happen again in a few months?  We have done literally nothing in response to every shooting up to this point.  We have taken no action, and the problem continues to worsen.

This is why we have to talk about guns.

The evidence is very strong when it comes to measuring the negative outcomes of gun proliferation.  Regardless of demographics and geography, more guns are directly correlated with increased rates of homicide, suicide and accidental fatalities.  America has the most guns out of any country in the world.  We also have, by far, the highest rate of gun violence of any developed country.  We can look at the different states and see how gun ownership and regulation relate to rates of firearm-related deaths.

There are real-world examples of the positive impact of gun regulation.  Australia did this two decades ago in response to a mass shooting, and it was successful.  It worked.  Perfect?  Hardly – but legislation will never be perfect.  It just needs to be good enough.

We have become so attuned to the state of affairs that we’ve forgotten exactly how unregulated guns are.  It is positively trivial to purchase a firearm in most states.  Compare this with the regulations we endure and embrace in every other sector of daily life.  We’re cool with the sometimes enormous web of regulations and inspections that are involved with cars, houses, and boats – because the alternative means needlessly putting lives in danger.

We have created machines whose primary purpose is to kill.  People are using them for that purpose.  We can continue to pretend that they’re just being misused, or we can regulate them just like we regulate everything else that’s dangerous.

Regulation, to me, is simply not that complicated.  The first step in reform is to apply the same structures we use elsewhere.


We require cars to be registered with an owner, uniquely identifiable with license plates, and we track ownership through titles that must be legally transferred between individuals.  Guns demand the same treatment.  They are deadly weapons, and should be treated with at least the same level of respect we show towards the power that vehicles represent.


We require drivers to undergo a minimum degree of training to be allowed on the road.  There are written tests and performance exams to ensure that all drivers are at least somewhat prepared.  It is reasonable to expect gun owners to possess a minimum of training in safe use and an awareness of the laws about gun ownership.

Background checks and waiting periods

No one who represents a clear threat to others should be allowed to purchase a gun.  Yes, establishing who is and isn’t a threat is really hard, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying.  Waiting periods are a natural pairing in this process, and ensure that crimes of passion are less of a possible motivation.

This is certainly an inconvenience to law-abiding citizens, but that’s a small price to pay for the security it offers to the rest of society.

Ban assault weapons

This one’s tricky.  It’s also the one that seems most relevant to the many shootings this decade, which have repeatedly involved AR-15s.

Defining an assault weapon in the legal sense is a challenge, no doubt.  But again, just because something’s hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  There are viable ways to cut down on the proliferation of excessively dangerous weapons, whether it’s based on magazine size, ammunition type, the rate of fire – we have ways to draw a line between a handgun and a assault weapon.

The bottom line is that no one should be able to kill 50 human beings in the space of a few minutes with something purchased over the counter.  This is not inevitable.  We have control over this.

This debate feels so exhausting, so worn out, so repetitive.  Our ability to grieve for the fallen is poisoned by this conflict.  But there is an urgency that I feel, now, as it seems these shootings are only becoming more frequent, more heinous.  We have to act.  If we let this go on without trying to fix the most obviously related problems, we will continue to emotionally detach as shooting after shooting takes place that we have no room in our souls to consider.

We have hundreds of victims every year.  We have strong evidence.  We have plausible legislative solutions.  We have to do this.

England is a cup of tea.
France, a wheel of ripened brie.
Greece, a short, squat olive tree.
America is a gun.

Brazil is football on the sand.
Argentina, Maradona’s hand.
Germany, an oompah band.
America is a gun.

Holland is a wooden shoe.
Hungary, a goulash stew.
Australia, a kangaroo.
America is a gun.

Japan is a thermal spring.
Scotland is a highland fling.
Oh, better to be anything
than America as a gun.

– Brian Bilston