To the editor:
In the current debate over gun violence, both sides agree, at least in theory, that there are too many gun deaths in America.
The vexing question is how to identify and implement a solution or a set of solutions to what we all agree is a serious problem. Ideas include putting more guns in schools in the form of armed guards, stricter screening of gun buyers, and improved mental health resources.
Banning lethal weapons is one idea.
One of the favorite arguments put forth by the NRA and gun advocates is that any type of firearms ban will not solve the problem of the high rate of gun deaths in the United States. The NRA says that banning assault weapons (for example) will make no difference, because criminals will always be able to get guns and gun manufacturers will find ways to circumvent the law. The NRA says that any law restricting gun availability will have no immediate salutary effect and therefore should not be considered.
The NRA is absolutely right about the first part. A ban on any category of weapons will have zero effect on the short-term rate of gun deaths in the United States.
At this moment, there are an estimated 270 million guns in the United States. Guns are durable goods. With proper care, a gun can remain operable for decades. If we banned the sale of all firearms today, we’d still have enough guns in America to kill every citizen many times over.
Is this a reason to throw up our hands in helpless surrender? Should we believe that the problem is too big and that if we cannot solve it today we should not even try?
This is precisely the attitude that the NRA encourages. In response, we need to reject the politics of futility and focus on the long term. We need to envision and create the kind of society we want our children and grandchildren to inherit.
Some 10 or 20 or 50 years from now, do we want to force our children to confront these same issues? No.
We know that we are capable of taking action today that will slowly and inexorably change our society. As the number of lethal guns gradually decreases as the decades roll past, we will see a positive effect.
Controlling access to lethal weapons will make a difference, but only if we align our expectations with what we can reasonably accomplish.