As a youngster, I considered the U.S. to be a safe and secure country. However, in my twenties, I came to the realization that security is a relative term. If a president like John F. Kennedy (who had the Secret Service guarding him) could be assassinated then no one is safe.
On average, 36,000 people in the U.S. are shot to death each year by a firearm. This amounts to about 100 deaths daily. Suicides account for over 60 percent of these deaths and about 33 percent are homicides. (See U.S. government data as compiled by the gun control group “Everytown for Gun Safety").
After the mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas, President Trump to his credit did say that “our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy.” However, these were only words. Mr. Trump’s actions belied his words. He showed he was a racist by calling Mexicans “rapists and murderers,” by separating Latino children from their parents on our southwestern border, and by restricting Muslims from certain countries to come to the U.S. Mr. Trump also had the gall to tell four Democratic members of Congress to go back to their own country.
When it comes to gun control, actions always speak louder than words. As reported in the Wall Street Journal on Aug. 10-11, 2019, Trump said that he believes that the National Rifle Association (N.R.A.) won’t stand in the way of the effort to consider proposals expanding background checks. However, the Republican controlled Senate refuses to pass a bill on background checks that the House passed earlier in 2019. In fact, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to put the House approved bill on the floor of the Senate for a vote.
This should come to no one’s surprise. Why so? President Trump and Mitch McConnell get huge amounts of money from the NRA. No wonder that President Trump recently spoke with the C.E.O. of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, about gun control. Mr. LaPierre stated that the NRA “opposes any legislation that unfairly infringes upon the rights of law-abiding citizens.” I wonder why Mr. Trump takes his cues on gun safety from the NRA and its allies, instead of doing the right thing for millions of our citizens.
Unfortunately, President Trump did not come out and ban AK 47 and AR-15 weapons that were designed to kill as many people as fast as possible. Moreover, he has done nothing to block the sale of military-grade ammunitions. As the police chief of Dayton recently noted, it’s problematic that the shooter could legally possess many rounds of military grade ammunition. This allowed the shooter to kill nine people and injure 27 others in a mere 30 seconds. This means that one person lost his/her life in less than a second. How unspeakably sad.
We do need stronger laws on the sale of firearms according to the Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in February of 2019. About 85 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans said they favored strong or moderate restrictions on the sale of firearms. Also, 55 percent of those polled remarked that they would like to see policies that make it tougher to own a gun. (See Wall Street Journal, Aug. 5, 2019).
For his part, Mr. Trump stated that “mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the guns.” He then spoke about the need for “red-flag laws," that is, ones that would make it easier for law enforcement or families to take weapons from those who poised a threat to society. (See Gerald F. Seth, “President Confronts a Bitter Divide,” WSJ, Aug. 6, 2019).
Dr. Saul Lewin, CEO and director of the American Psychiatric Association, notes that roughly 4 percent of people with a mental illness become violent. However, he notes that they take their anger out against themselves, rather than against other people. There’s already a stigma attached to a person who has a mental illness. However, by putting the blame for recent shootings on the mentally ill, Mr. Trump makes it more difficult for a person with a mental illness to seek treatment for their condition.
What needs to be done to reduce these mass shootings? First, we can do what Canada does to limit the sale of firearms. In order to get a gun, a person must have the written consent of their spouse, girl/boy-friend, or others close to them. They must vouch that the one getting the gun is not a violent person.
Second, we must do what New Zealand did after a mass shooting. They passed a ban on assault weapons almost immediately. Third, the president and Congress should not allow ordinary citizens to buy military grade ammunition. Fourth, background checks must be made on everyone who applies for a firearm. With the technology we have today, that ought not be a major problem. If these suggestions are not implemented, I’m afraid we will see more of these mass shootings.
Richard Penaskovic is an emeritus professor at Auburn University, who taught religious studies for 30 years.