We’ve had the guy with the shocking orange hair. The hermit with the scraggly beard. The gamer living with his mom. The misogynist virgin. The disgruntled office worker. The Korean American college kid. The African American veteran.
Until Wednesday’s rampage at a holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif., the only thing we hadn’t had was a woman picking up guns and slaughtering innocent people.
But now police tell us we have a Muslim couple with a 6-month-old baby — Syed Rizwan Farook and his Pakistani-born wife, Tashfeen Malik — to add to the ranks of mass shooters and our country’s endless, exhausting gallery of gore.
With each of these rampage shootings — we’ve had more of them than days this year — we try to pinpoint what triggered the violence. It’s the mental health system. It’s video games. It’s the recession. It’s religious fanaticism. It’s racial hatred.
Yes, these are all contributing factors. But the real common thread among these shooters is obvious: their access to guns.
About 100,000 people take a bullet every year in America. And about 32,000 of them die. There are more guns in this country — 357 million — than there are people.
Solving this problem begins right now, right here in Washington, where too many leaders put their hands over their ears and la-la-la-la their way through facts, pleas, protests about guns.
Not only is there denial of the epidemic that kills about 90 Americans every single day, there is also a ban on learning more about it.
Hours before that horrific scene in San Bernardino, doctors wearing white laboratory coats showed up on Capitol Hill with a petition signed by more than 2,000 of their colleagues asking Congress to lift a two-decade-old ban on allowing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence as the public health epidemic that they are seeing.
Imagine a law that had prevented doctors from studying the health effects of tobacco. Or pesticides. Or polio. We’d freak out.
But when it comes to guns?
Don’t do a thing about children who are rushed to emergency rooms with their eyes shot out after playing with an unsecured gun in their homes.
Or the depressed people who stick a gun in their mouths and pull the trigger.
Or the young men killing one another in cities across the country.
But on Capitol Hill, where the lobbyists at the National Rifle Association are more powerful than any victims of gun violence, they don’t want to hear it.
They didn’t want to hear it when 20 first-graders were slaughtered in their classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary School. They didn’t want to hear it when one of their own, former representative Gabrielle Giffords, bravely addressed them after having part of her head blown off while meeting with her constituents in Tucson. They didn’t want to hear it when nine people at Bible study were gunned down in Charleston, S.C.
Many of our elected officials are too beholden to tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the NRA and gun manufacturers. Or too afraid of what those groups will spend to defeat them if they get in the gun lobby’s crosshairs.
We pay a price for this refusal in lives and blood. We pay a price in the staggering medical costs of treating gunshot victims. We pay a price in the escalating costs of security measures. We pay a price in the eroded sense of security and freedom in our daily lives. And we pay a price in our standing in the world, where many people see us as a dangerous, irrational society.
“The one thing we do know is that we have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world,” President Obama said Wednesday. “And there are some steps we could take — not to eliminate every one of these mass shootings — but to improve the odds that they don’t happen as frequently.”
It is time for Congress to step up.
Piecemeal gun legislation in states and cities isn’t doing it. Skirmishes over background checks and trigger locks haven’t fixed things.
It’s time to come together and treat this as the national crisis it is.
Listen to what Giffords said to her former colleagues in January 2013:
“Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now.
“You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.”
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