I hate the new normal.
At restaurants, bars, movie theaters or beloved local festival events, I hate scanning for exits and wondering who might be carrying a weapon and nursing a grudge, and if this might be the day or night when the American culture of mass shootings personally affects me or those I love.
I hate the ping of news alerts on my phone — three dead at a garlic festival in California on July 28; the one-two punch of 22 fatalities in El Paso on Saturday, followed by nine more in Dayton on Sunday.
I hate that "thoughts and prayers" has become a sick punchline for inertia.
I hate that someone, somewhere, even as these words are being typed, is mouthing the tired argument that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, and making a smarmy comment about the damage somebody could inflict with a sledgehammer, a steak knife or a chair leg.
I hate that the incidents that get the most attention are the ones with multiple fatalities, that so many one-offs — a guy with a gun blowing away his spouse or ex-girlfriend, a neighbor shooting a neighbor over loud music or barking dogs — hardly raise an eyebrow, just business as usual here in the Wild West of 2019.
Mostly, I hate knowing that gun violence, singletons and multiple homicides alike, will happen again and again and again until something is done.
What that something is can take two broad directions.
Direction number one is more guns. If more people were armed, goes this argument, and if more people did so under concealed-carry and open-carry laws, so wannabe-shooter psychos, craven to their very cores, would apparently stay at home.
A major flaw with this premise is that America, home to an estimated 327.2-million people, already has 390-million civilian firearms. The oft-repeated "good guy with a gun theory" doesn’t seem to hold water, unless the argument is that we don’t know how many psychos were deterred by the hypothetical presence of weekend warriors sporting weapons at craft shows and malls.
It seems more likely that the proliferation of guns in this country is part of the problem, not part of the solution. In other countries where guns are not as prevalent, incidents of gun violence, while not unheard of, are far less common. In the lexicon of Occam’s razor, this isn’t even a close shave.
How, then, to curtail access to guns without limiting the rights of law-abiding Americans to own them? (As an aside, a 2012 New Yorker article by Jeffrey Toobin explains how our modern understanding of the Second Amendment owes more to "an elaborate and brilliantly executed political operation" by the NRA and others in the 1980s then to centuries of prior legal precedent. But I digress.)
For one thing, we have to agree that the Second Amendment does not give citizens the right to own assault weapons, high-capacity magazines or accessories that increase their killing power.
Here is where gun aficionados love to bog down the argument with technical specs on what is or is not an assault weapon. To save a lot of emails, let me concede that any gun owner knows more details than I do. In plain English, any gun or attachment to a gun that allows it to kill a lot of people in a ridiculously short time is something civilians don’t need — not for personal protection, not for sport.
Secondly, we need to close loopholes in background checks so that they apply to all gun sales and transfers, and require that checks be completed before new owners take possession of weapons. Yes, this will slow down the process of buying and selling, in much the same way that new security procedures slowed down air travel after 9/11 — a worthwhile inconvenience because it made us safer.
The government also needs to expand the categories of people who cannot buy or own firearms to include individuals who are guilty of hate-crime misdemeanors and dating partners convicted of domestic violence. This will help curtail those tragedies that don’t always make front-page news.
The most common-sense changes can be found in the Brady Plan’s Comprehensive Approach to Preventing Gun Violence. At eight pages, it is short and eminently readable. It is also freely available online.
Will this be the series of tragedies that prompts a real discussion — from our coffee shops to Congress — about much-needed reform? And will we hold our elected lawmakers responsible for standing up to the NRA?
I hate to think it’s not, and I hate to think we won’t.
@cschillig on Twitter