Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: We must not be helpless against gun violence

We live in a world in which one old man with no military training, all by his lonesome, can slaughter 59 innocent people and wound more than 500 others. Think about the scale of that, because it’s a higher casualty count than U.S. forces took in an entire week of heavy fighting in retaking the Iraqi city of Fallujah.

Yet it happened right here at home, in a matter of mere minutes.

We also live in a world in which we are told that there is little or nothing to be done about such events, that this is “the price we pay for freedom” and that it would somehow dishonor the dead to try to figure out a way to prevent or mimimize such catastrophes.

Well, screw all that hopelessness and helplessness. The four largest mass murders in this country have all occurred in the past 10 years. Until this week, the largest had been the attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, which left 49 slaughtered, again by a lone gunman. That grisly record stood for all of 16 months, and you have to ask yourself what comes next. Because something is coming next.

In short, we have a problem, a problem that is worsening even in the face of an avalanche of prayers and thoughts and condolences that we have marshaled against it. Somehow, that approach hasn't done the job. And although some won’t want to hear it, in this country, under our system of government, we solve problems through politics. We politicize them. That's how it works, by design.

If you have a recurring problem, one way to address it would be to look for factors common to most outbreaks. That’s what an epidemiologist would do, but since our government epidemiologists are banned by the National Rifle Association from applying their science to this particular problem, it is left to us amateurs to figure out.

That’s OK, though, because some of it’s not all that complicated. We know, for example, that the Orlando gunman was armed with a Sig Sauer MCX assault weapon, designed and sold as a weapon of war, not as a hunting weapon or means of self-defense. That weapon, combined with magazines capable of holding 30 rounds of ammo, made him impossible to halt without severe loss of life.

We also know that the Las Vegas gunman had several assault weapons, and in at least one case probably altered it to make it capable of fully automatic fire. We know that the gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School chose a Bushmaster assault rifle, again with high-capacity magazines, to kill 20 children and six adults. We know that the San Bernardino terrorists also armed themselves with two assault weapons fed with high-capacity magazines.

Is anybody sensing a pattern here? These gunmen are often nuts, but they are rational enough to know that when you set out with the intention to inflict mass mayhem, you should reach for equipment that is specifically designed to inflict mass mayhem. And you can buy it off the shelf.

And yes, I am fully aware that the gun industry and its defenders don’t like the term “assault weapon,” preferring “modern sporting rifles” instead. Well, screw that too. It is not yet a modern sport to kill large numbers of people in a short amount of time, and that is the purpose for which these tools were designed.

Finally, it is not unconstitutional to address the issue. In the words of Justice Antonin Scalia, “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited," and it is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever.”

As Scalia understood, guns are a legitimate means of self-defense.

But so are laws.



Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.