In Tidewater Tales, John Barth likens our reaction to death to chickens in a chicken coop at the mercy of a large black snake. When the snake kills a chicken, the other chickens squawk and run around nervously, but they soon return to their usual routine of eating, clucking and laying eggs. This is also a fair analogy for our responses to mass shootings. The “chickens” (us), talk, criticize and demand gun control measures; while the NRA and its congressmen, lay low (like the black snake) until we quit squawking.
Today I am one of those squawkers.
I had hoped that after Sandy Hook, where 20 first graders and 6 adults were killed in a horrific act of gun violence; we would pass legislation to protect ourselves.
But the black snake just waited us out.
In fact, after the Sandy Hook shooting nearly every state implemented new gun laws and almost two-thirds of those laws made access to guns easier (NY Times 2013). Two states that passed gun laws encouraging gun ownership were, you guessed it, Ohio and Texas.
Then I hoped that reforms might happen after the Parkland High School shooting which left 17 dead. Some students took off from school to go around the country advocating for gun laws to protect us.
But the black snake just waited.
Statistics show that there is little about gun ownership that is safe.
The risk of homicide is three times higher in homes with firearms. Over a dozen studies have found that increasing guns in homes increases homicides or violence. States with the most guns and the most favorable gun laws report the most accidental shooting deaths. Accidents made up 1.3% of the 36,247 U.S. shooting deaths in 2015.
The most recent Walmart shooting put to bed the canard that the best weapons against gun violence are “good guys” with guns. No gun owners in Texas, a strong open carry state, were able to stop the rampage. It turns out protecting yourself and protecting others using guns are two completely different skills, according to law enforcement officials.
Most of us want responsible gun controls, 57% favor a ban on assault weapons, 90% approve of background checks. The NRA’s extreme positions and recent scandal demonstrate that they do not represent the rights of responsible gun owners.
Which causes me to be frustrated and wonder why responsible gun owners (who represent the vast majority of gun owners) are not incensed by how they are being used by the NRA. The NRA today is little more than a shill for gun manufacturers.
Despite its obvious ties to gun manufacturers, the NRA has effectively sold fear, convincing its members that there will be a “domino effect” if we pass any laws to restrict gun ownership. Some have been convinced that the “government” will swoop down and take their guns away. (It is estimated that there are almost 400 million guns in America. Have you ever seen the government in action? Does anyone really believe that that the government could do this?)
But something must be done. While many of the proposed solutions such as; red flag laws, background check and a ban on assault weapons, will do little to bring down the number of deaths; IT IS A START.
Can we let common sense prevail? Gun owners are already protected by the constitution.
Something as simple as banning assault weapons would have had a significant impact on the death toll in the Ohio shootings, where the shooter was able to kill 9 people and injure 27 others in less than a minute. He fired at least 41 times before six officers responded and killed him. And in El Paso, police responded within six minutes, by then the gunman had fled, leaving 22 people dead. The police have been able to respond very quickly and effectively to many mass shootings (the glaring exception being Parkland), but assault weapons are faster, than, well “a speeding bullet.”
There is an inconvenient truth here, the 10-year ban on assault weapons which ended in 2004 had no impact on the number of gun-related deaths. This is because there are so many gun related deaths each year and only a tiny fraction of gun deaths are the result of mass killings.
But what if a ban on assault weapons saved the life of one innocent victim, as it would have in Ohio or Texas or Sandy Hook or the nightclub shooting in Florida…would it be worth it?
Now back to my chicken coop analogy, the good news is that we are not chickens. We can sign petitions; we can notify our representatives and we can write checks and keep up the pressure in the hopes that someday our lawmakers listen to the voice of the majority.
We can find where that black snake is hiding.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.