This country has a problem with the proliferation of guns — but it’s best demonstrated not by the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, but by what happens in Robeson County almost every week, routinely without the obligatory outrage.
As the debate begins in Washington, D.C., on how to turn back the tide of gun deaths — which receded for decades before a recent rise — expect no more than a dog-and-pony show if the conversation stalls on AK-47’s and similar weapons. Banning such weapons is a lazy feel-good approach that gives politicians talking points but doesn’t guarantee a single life saved.
This year, about 33,000 Americans are expected to die from gun violence, and we promise that assault weapons will rarely be the assailant’s preferred weapon. Guns kill an average of 25 people in Robeson County each year, and we can’t recall when an assault weapon has been used — although we won’t claim never. No one is advocating, not yet at least, that restrictions be placed on handguns, handy for self-defense, or hunting weapons, whose use is plain. But they are the weapons that are used to kill in Robeson County.
While Columbine and Sandy Hook gobble up the most ink — deservedly so — mass murders remain a rarity, and that they occur at all says much more about this nation’s impotence in dealing with our mentally ill than it does about the ease with which assault weapons can be possessed. By definition, it’s not a sane person who grabs a weapon, storms into a school, and kills at random — and there are always signs that for too long have been ignored that the culprit was slipping away into a dark place.
There is no switch to flip: A comprehensive approach is needed, one that includes tougher gun laws, a more realistic approach to this nation’s drug and alcohol problem, a rejection of the culture of violence that is promoted by the entertainment industry and, what we believe is the most important component, a get-tough attitude with violent criminals, especially repeat offenders.
Determined gun advocates — if they are wise, and that is in doubt — would yield some ground in exchange for real reform; it doesn’t matter that those motivated by malice cannot be denied access to weapons, and stricter gun laws only constrain those who respect those laws. The conversation has to begin somewhere, and gun advocates would claim an important PR victory by opening with a concession and saying your move.
This newspaper, as a matter of habit, checks the criminal history of those who are accused of murder in this county. And it is next to never that the accused isn’t intimate with the justice system because of past acts of violence, yet they have been freed to terrorize by a judicial system assigned to protect us all. Violence is an evolutionary process for criminals, with murder being the highest degree, so there is an opportunity to disarm.
The excuse that our nation’s prisons are out of bunk beds is just an excuse. Build more prisons, or free up space by looking first to rehabilitation for drug usage, and alternative sentencing for non-violent criminals. Establish and impose long sentences for those who use guns to commit crimes.
Guns will quit killing Americans only when those who would use them for that purpose are no longer free to do so.