Three Democratic bills on guns are headed for the governor’s desk this week, but unless you were really paying attention you wouldn’t have noticed. The fiery rhetoric, the busloads of protestors, and the spectacle that surrounded past gun bills were all missing. The reason? Gun control in this country has failed, again.
I would have hoped that after so much senseless death, so many parents grieving for their murdered children, and so many brave students speaking out and leading marches, that we’d be at a better point than this. I thought that maybe our leaders would approve some very basic and popular gun control measures, like a national gun registry database and the closing of the gun show loophole that allows firearm purchases without a background check.
But no. The Republican Senate and President Donald Trump haven’t budged at all on the issue, nor will they. The right-wing cultural outrage and conspiracy theory factory has turned fierce, motivated survivors of school shootings into objects of scorn, wrongly painting them as political props. No tragedy, no matter how horrifying, will be enough for the powers that be to move a single inch.
It’s the kind of gut-wrenching reality that leaves me feeling hollow and hopeless. I should have known we’d get to this point after Sandy Hook happened and congressional Republicans didn’t change their minds. Maybe gun control is something that will happen when Parkland survivor and activist Emma González and her generation are in power. I hope I live to see that.
But in the meantime those of us who think there are too many guns in this country, and that military-style weapons like the AR-15 have no place in civilian hands, have no good options. Pointless massacres are going to keep happening, gun deaths will continue to far outpace those in any other developed country, and our children are going to keep doing active-shooter drills in their first grade classrooms.
This is insane. This can’t be our reality. But it is, and we’re here, so what do we do?
I think the first thing we all have to promise ourselves is that we won’t become numb to what’s happening. I know it’s tempting sometimes to just close our eyes, especially when so much else is going on in this country, but gun violence should never become a routine thing that we shrug at. I’m not just talking about school shootings, but about gun crime on the streets of our cities as well. White, middle-class America has long been too willing to look away from the latter.
Every death at the hands of a gun is an indictment of a broken system, so the second thing we must do is look at what can be done to fix the root causes of violence.
Gun violence in our cities has as its root causes poverty, lack of opportunity, broken schools, institutionalized racism, and the failures of the war on drugs. Poor communities of color need more support, and young men in those communities need real opportunities and alternatives.
As for the kinds of mass shootings that are overwhelmingly committed by young white men, we need to do more work on finding the causes of these crimes so they can be better prevented. Maybe that takes the form of mental health care, or finding and exposing nests of online alienation and nihilism that glorify acts of mass violence.
Lastly, we can focus on gun safety. This feels like applying a Band-aid to a severed limb, but it is something that for now both left and right can actually agree on. One of the things responsible gun owners teach their children is absolute gun safety, and when they practice what they preach they store guns and ammunition in secure areas to which children can never gain access.
The laws passed by the General Assembly are codifying this behavior. One requires gun owners to safely store firearms in houses with minors under the age of 18. Another requires gun owners to securely store guns in motor vehicles to prevent theft. A third bans so-called “ghost guns,” which can be assembled at home from parts ordered over the internet.
All of these bills have bipartisan support and are expected to be signed into law by the governor. They will hopefully prevent some deaths by making it harder for people to steal or illegally build guns, and by making it less likely children can find guns in a house and accidentally fire them.
Will they solve the real problems we face when it comes to guns? No. But it’s something, and for now it’s all we’ve got.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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