US Catholic Faith in Real Life

What happened in Vegas

Is a gradualist approach the way toward sensible gun regulation?

By Kevin Clarke | Print this pagePrint |
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Lord knows that around the world there is no lack of opportunities for peacemaking. We don’t have to go looking overseas for conflicts to resolve; within our nation a cry for peace rises to the heavens. Our latest immigration bans and refugee quotas cut off the “other” we perceive as a threat, but they don’t protect us from the darkness that lurks within our borders and within our hearts.

On October 1, Stephen Craig Paddock rained death down from a hotel tower on a crowd of helpless people below, taking 58 lives and wounding or injuring more than 500 others. Once again a preventable and senseless human suffering was visited on hundreds of families.

“Thought and prayers” will never be enough to help them recover from this inexplicable violence. The indifference to such mayhem maintained by gun rights absolutists such as the leadership of the National Rifle Association and the shoulder-shrugging they purchase in has left citizens exasperated and exhausted. If the slaughter of the innocents in Newtown, Connecticut in 2013 was not enough to propel a national change of heart, what about this latest massacre will do it? The higher body count? The nature of the weapons used and the size of the arsenal amassed?

Some describe this periodic bloodletting as the price of freedom, fetishizing the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. But people are also the sacred recipients of a right to life. The purported threat of government tyranny needs to be rationally assessed alongside demonstrable threats to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness that proceed from a gun-happy society: 33,000 deaths by firearms a year; communities broken by gun violence; families destroyed by it.

How do we put a stop to this suffering in a nation that refuses to respond to a continuing epidemic of everyday gun violence and its profoundly abnormal mass-casualty events? Campaigns for broad gun-control edicts merely provoke a well-funded and persistent resistance. Perhaps a gradualist reform would have better luck.

Just a few days before Paddock began his record-breaking killing spree from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, Spencer Hight drunkenly interrupted a football viewing party hosted by his ex-wife in Plano, Texas and started shooting. In a matter of seconds, his rage and his AR-15 stopped the lives of eight young people. Hight was gunned down soon after by police.

His ex-wife Meredith Lane Hight and seven of her friends had become victims of another kind of predictable violence, representing another homegrown plague—intimate partner violence, typically directed against women.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control reports that more than half of the nation’s female homicide victims are killed in connection with intimate partner violence. In 10 percent of those cases, acts of violence shortly before the homicides themselves signaled for police intervention. And according to research by Everytown Gun Safety, between 2009 and 2016, 54 percent of the 156 mass shootings that happened in the United States involved a shooter who was acting against a current or former significant other or family member. A history of violence troubled the Hight marriage, but under current U.S. law there was nothing that would have required him to surrender his weapons or prevent him from acquiring new ones.

If history is any guide, outrage over the Mandalay massacre will soon subside. Before this ritual of American horror resets, moving against the gun privileges of men with a history of violence against their partners could be a small positive step toward sensible gun policies, taking weapons off our streets and returning our public spaces to the families who should be able to walk them in safety and peace.

Image: Flickr cc via Jonathan Kos-Read

Wednesday, October 11, 2017