//We Are The Ones Killing Us

We Are The Ones Killing Us

By I. smiley G. Calderón | smileygcalderon@gmail.com

Last month, we discussed how legal and illegal guns terrorize our communities. We discussed firearms in America, whether acquired legally or illegally and how they can (and often) be used for egregious and life-altering crimes. Unfortunately, tragic mass shootings are much too commonplace and have recently plagued our nation. But of course, the guns aren’t doing the damage or causing the carnage all by themselves.

We are the ones who are killing us.

This fact must remain at the forefront of this gun discussion so that we don’t solely focus on or blame inanimate objects for the American gun violence problem. Instead, the blame for illegal gun violence should always fall squarely on the shoulders of people — on the shooter, the gun manufacturer, the legislator who legalizes firearms, the judges who sanction them, the politicians and lobbyists who keep access to high-powered guns lawful — on all of us. The reality is that we live in a subconsciously violent society that celebrates gun violence everywhere — in our movies and TV shows. It is ubiquitous in our entertainment — a core American attribute and a key component of our unique culture. It’s wholeheartedly American to experience gun violence in one way or another.

Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.

Maybe we’ve had so many mass shootings every week this year because Americans are more inherently violent than the rest of the world. It’s undoubtedly true that gun violence pales elsewhere in the developed world. A recent Bloomberg analysis of worldwide gun violence noted that “Mass shootings…feel unique to America.” Still, it also honed in on one significant fact about our great nation – the U.S. is “…where there are more civilian-owned guns than people.”

People with guns kill people.

Last month, we acknowledged that there couldn’t be any gun violence without guns. Yet, we also recognized that America would never completely ban or outlaw civilian-owned guns. Plus, even if the government completely illegalized firearms, criminals would still find a way to get them. There would always be gun-related deaths, even in a “gun-free” land. But there wouldn’t be the kind of mass shootings that are happening right now all over the country, every day. The typical criminal is not doing these mass shootings. There is no money or incentive involved. When it comes to mass shootings, organized crime isn’t the problem.

Mass shootings happen when a deranged or spiteful person with a firearm purposefully decides to end other people’s lives. The only difference between the United States and most of the world is that, in most developed nations, access to purchasing or owning guns is highly restricted. And the ability to acquire high-powered assault weapons is unheard of—an impossible thought for a civilian. In some countries, like Japan or South Korea, gun violence almost never happens. And in other countries where limited gun ownership is legal, even if the gun owner becomes deranged or spiteful enough to kill many people, he (assuming he’s male, which is statistically probable) wouldn’t be able to do it. Without a semiautomatic assault rifle, he would be limited in the carnage he could effect. But, equipped with a semiautomatic or automatic weapon, he becomes equivalent to a small army of one. Sometimes, the police are outgunned or are too late to stop a bloodbath in these situations. With these kinds of weapons of mass destruction easily in the hands of Americans, it’s no surprise they’re used.  

People with high-powered assault weapons kill a lot of people.

People killing people is nothing new. How efficiently and quickly a person can do it, however, is what has changed throughout civilization. Wielding the potent power of a high-powered assault weapon is almost godlike and absolutely terrifying. Therefore, access to these weapons needs to be drastically curtailed, if not banned entirely in our society, to prevent further massacres. This reasoning is why, finally, after decades of countless avoidable gun-related tragedies, the recent news that Congress has worked together to enact a series of crucial gun reform laws is promising yet long overdue. After President Biden signed the reforms into law in late June, he acknowledged, “While this bill doesn’t do everything I want, it does include actions I’ve long called for that are going to save lives … God willing, it’s going to save a lot of lives.”

The Gun Safety Bill, among other things, expands background checks on people 21 and younger. However, to no one’s surprise, the National Rifle Association staunchly opposed it. “This legislation can be abused to restrict lawful gun purchases, infringe upon the rights of law-abiding Americans, and use federal dollars to fund gun control measures being adopted by state and local politicians,” they said in a statement. The new bill also allows states to enforce ‘red flag’ laws that permit the confiscation and removal of firearms from any individual found by a judge to be too dangerous to possess them. It also provides millions of dollars of support for state intervention systems like mental health and drug programs.

One of the significant changes in the new gun legislation addressed the so-called ‘boyfriend loophole.’ This loophole allowed a domestic abuser not living with or not married to his girlfriend to still legally possess a firearm (the law had only prohibited the possession of a gun of a domestic abuser who lived with or was married to the victim of abuse). This is a breakthrough in gun reform, but is it enough? As the new law is written, it still gives the right to own a gun back to domestic abusers after five years of a clean record. ‘Firearm-philic’ legislators like Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who helped negotiate the loophole’s new conditions, see gun ownership as a pinnacle of American life. “This is an incentive, I think, for people who have made a mistake, committed domestic violence, and received a misdemeanor conviction, to straighten up their act and not repeat it,” he said about allowing convicted abusers to own and possess a firearm again legally. However, the problem with these relaxed regulations is that they legally enable abusers and ultimately still endanger society. If the goal is to reduce gun violence, less access to guns should be the answer, especially for known abusers. 

The deeper we dig into our American gun violence epidemic, the more clear it is that we are divided. We are a divided nation of conflicting ideas regarding the place of firearms in our society. Although many Americans are fine with personal gun ownership, many also recognize the danger of assault weapons and want to see them outlawed.  

Who knows how many more American massacres we’ll need to endure before Americans truly unite and kick the gun enthusiast legislators to the side for the sake of our children’s future.  

The longer we wait, the more we will realize that we are the ones killing us.

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I. smiley G. Calderón is a Gen X Chicano and lifelong educator who spent a career in academia in Southern California, but is most proud of being a father.