…it provided me with a new perspective on our nation’s unique and unending history of mass violence. When the murders at a bar in Thousand Oaks took place just a couple of days earlier, at the other end of the county where I grew up, in a part of the world I know very well, it hit home as well. A couple of weeks ago, an armed man was headed for the school where my wife teaches. They went on lockdown and lockout. He wanted to murder his children. The police stopped him a couple of blocks away.
No shooter menaced the Loyola Marymount University Campus. It was a false alarm. Still, the students must have been frightened. I immediately texted her back. And called, but realized that was probably a mistake. What if she was hiding and her phone vibrated or rang and that gave her away. She was in a safe location, and let me know that, but still, I told her to stay there until she saw someone with a badge telling her it was safe to exit. I felt fear. And anger.
One of the young people who died in Thousand Oaks had survived the slaughter in Las Vegas. Think about that. According to one report I read, nearly a dozen of the young people in that bar attended the concert in Las Vegas when a one-man army opened fire, killing nearly five dozen people and wounding more than 400.
Dana Loesch, the NRA spokesperson and future denizen of the Eighth Circle of Hell, has already pointed out that my home state has tough gun laws. That did not prevent the shootings so, she suggested, legislation and regulation are not the answer. What a deeply cynical and self-serving argument. You might want to regulate us, she says. You may want your representatives to enact a law attacking 2nd Amendment rights. But you can’t win. Your laws will not do any good. You are powerless to stop this. You would be better off agitating for better mental health care, because the guy who shot up the bar in Thousand Oaks suffered from PTSD, even though there are many people who suffer the after-effects of trauma who could not hurt a fly. The problem is not us, she said, and it is not the guns. It is always something else: the video games, the violent culture, the sick society, the heavy metal music. You are better off buying a gun of your own, to protect you from, you know, the criminals, and the Mexicans and the Terrorists and the crazies. The NRA is a trade group, after all. Your fear is good for their bottom line.
But there is something that can be done. We all saw the marches that took place across the country earlier this year, after another one-man army equipped with highly efficient killing machines entered a school in Florida and added to the nation’s growing tally of slaughtered children. I joined one of those marches. And I will do so again. I continue to write op-eds when and where the opportunity presents. Maybe I will teach a course on the history of guns in America. As historians, I believe strongly that my colleagues and I should bring our critical and research skills to bear on matters of public importance. The election results suggest that, in places, there is growing energy behind this movement. We need to keep the pressure on our elected leaders to act. We need change, and we need it fast.
30,000 people die each year from bullet wounds, whether those are the result of accident, suicide, or murder. That is more than three people an hour, every hour, of every day. That does not count the many thousands more who are wounded, their bodies mangled and lacerated by devices designed only to destroy human life. Maybe those who embrace their right to own killing machines should learn more of the experiences of those who are wounded, their lives altered permanently by a bullet. And then there are many more threatened with these weapons, who live in fear because an abusive spouse or parent or friend has weapons. Finally, there are those of us who, as this epidemic widens, whipsaws, and afflicts more families, live in fear that in some way we, or those we love, might be next. Guns end conversation. They end debate. The create a climate of fear. Guns are inconsistent with freedom, whatever the death-dealers at the National Rifle Association tell you, because they force us to live in fear. They menace. They threaten, they frighten, and they kill. They were invented only to kill. We need a community with more compassion. We need to choose to live our lives free from fear. And we need to rid our communities of the killing machines that are too readily available to too many people, even in states with the toughest of gun regulations.