– By Robert Scott –
After two columns about the uplifting visit of Pope Francis, that vision of peace has been shattered by graphic images of the latest school shooting, this time at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The most comments I have ever received online after writing an Edgefield Advertiser column came after the column aptly titled “Second Amendment Wrongs.” It’s an emotional topic, especially here in the rural south. But once again we need to discuss our duty, here in Edgefield County and across the country, to protect ourselves and our children from gun violence. No other western democracy faces the degree of gun-related violence that we face in the United States. We need to recognize how closely this violence is related to our being the only western democracy whose “gun rights” are enshrined in their fundamental national governing documents.
Like the Aurora theater shooting, like the Columbine High School massacre, and like the multiple murders of elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut, the assailant at Roseburg, Oregon, was armed with several weapons – this time, all reportedly purchased legally. I heartily agree with most of our national news media that the shooter should not be named, and I will not name him here. It’s not about him, it’s about his victims – and it’s about the weapons that enabled him to become a mass murderer. The number I heard on the news was that he owned fourteen guns. The shooter had a history of mental instability, not enough to be institutionalized but enough to worry many who knew him well.
The question, once again, is what should we as a society do? Is the answer “just enforce the laws already on the books” as many have said? I’m not at all convinced. In the case of Roseburg, the laws on the books proved insufficient. Is the answer to pass new legislation, with more stringent background checks? Who, then, would decide what condition is disqualifying for purchasing a gun? Is someone who voluntarily visits a counselor because of some traumatic event in his or her life – say, the death of a loved one – to be disqualified? What if that counselor sees that person as severely grief-stricken, more so than most people, perhaps even wondering during counseling whether life is worth living? Would that be disqualifying? Or how about a young man or woman with a history of drug abuse – say, being busted at a college frat party when cocaine was found in the room – would that disqualify all in attendance from ever purchasing a weapon? And if someone is found not qualified to purchase a weapon, would that by itself be sufficient for a warrant to be issued to confiscate all weapons that person already owned, or even all weapons in the residence where he or she lives? Again, I’m not at all convinced that increased background checks would work. The devil truly is in the details – and I doubt we as a society could reach consensus on those details.
Perhaps the answer really is to restrict gun ownership, as most democracies have done. Perhaps the time will come when the Supreme Court will uphold legislation that makes it illegal for private individuals to own semi-automatic weapons, just as it is illegal to own biological weapons. Would that stem the rate of gun violence in America? Would a poll of American voters favor such a restriction, if taken a week after the next shooting that makes the evening news? Will the next Congress, or the one after that, favor such gun control?
With each new mass killing, more American voters will reexamine their thoughts about guns, gun violence, and the Second Amendment. Perhaps one day enough people will do so to change the Second Amendment itself. Perhaps one day, we will feel that our children are as safe in schools in America as they are in schools in Australia, Great Britain, Japan, and the rest of the civilized world.