Gun Violence in America Reveals Something Deeper

As I begin writing, I have just learned that Louisville has again suffered another mass shooting at Chickasaw Park, leaving 4 injured and 2 dead.

I would be remiss if I did not state how difficult it is to find new words. At times, we must feel like broken records with repeated calls over the years to institute this or that ameliorative policy, sparing no shred of frustration with policymakers. Change, however, has not come. 

Frankly, the burden is no longer on the people to make the charge. It’s now the government’s responsibility–its obligation–to protect children and deal with this decades-long crisis of systemic mass shootings.

People have done their part. They’ve sacrificed. Families have suffered unimaginable losses. Petitions have been signed, people have shown up in the streets, and ballot initiatives have passed and been implemented

Polls from last year (2022) demonstrate growing support for stricter gun laws (71% of adults), including half of Republicans. Overall, 8-in-10 Americans recognize that gun violence is on the rise nationwide. They know this.

Reforms such as universal background checks, closing gun show loopholes, implementing federal red flag laws, and licensing requirements for all gun purchases are mild. These are not extreme policy positions. And, as history demonstrates, policymakers are entirely out of touch with the opinions of voters. Indeed, these policy positions are endorsed by the majority of Americans (according to polling from 2019):

  • Support for universal background checks, both in private transactions and at gun shows: 83%
  • Creation of a national “red flag” law: 72%
  • Requiring a license before purchasing a gun: 72%

It’s abundantly clear that more can be done–more should be done. The effects of gun violence ripple through communities, destroy families, shake communities to their core, and, when law enforcement fails to take proper action against red flags, erode community trust in their police department.

In June of last year, the federal government passed and signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which included $750 million in federal funding for states to implement intervention programs like gun restraining orders (the formal term for red flag laws).

19 states and the District of Columbia have some kind of red flag law. Currently, federal law mandates that background checks are conducted for any gun purchases made from a federally licensed dealer–however, only 40% of gun purchases in the United States are done through federally licensed dealers. Despite an overwhelming majority favoring universal background checks, they are only mandatory in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

All of this is to say the following: people know intuitively what is appropriate action to take to curb gun violence. Mainstream political science research tells us that, in the American system, there historically has been a sharp divide between what the majority see as common sense policy and what elites in Washington consider “governing.” Public opinion often fails to translate into policy.

Federal and state lawmakers’ inability to address issues of gun violence reveals deeply embedded characteristics of the American system of government–namely, that it is designed to restrict democracy. The “bewildered herd,” to borrow from Walter Lippmann, can rest assured that the natural aristocracy (an idea that goes straight back to Founding Fathers like Jefferson and Madison) will determine what’s best for the country. As NRA money floods Washington, the rising costs of elections means that lawmakers follow the money and no longer derive their authority from their constituencies.

Where extreme gun advocacy is concerned, there is something deeply symptomatic at play. We are no longer in 1776. To pretend as if gun ownership should remain completely boundless and without guidelines is completely detached from reality–in the realm of an embarrassing fairy tale. No matter the fact that guns continue to find their way into the hands of those that should not have them–our jingoist, fanatical worship of the Second Amendment shall not be infringed!

Such may be our downfall.

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