“Were guns the factor in the hunting of our kids?”

Out of the many riveting exchanges in Wednesday night’s CNN town hall on gun violence, this question — leveled at Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) by the grieving father of a Parkland school shooting victim — was perhaps the most remarkable. It brought to the fore a fundamental truth that we consistently manage to avoid whenever the topic of gun deaths comes up.

The answer, of course, was yes. The one factor that enables the overwhelming number of U.S. gun deaths, our routine mass murders, our lather-rinse-and-repeat cycle of grief, acrimony and forgetting is the ubiquity of the gun. It is an object simply performing the role it was meant to perform.

After all, what are guns for? Guns are for killing. This is their purpose; this is what they are meant for and designed to do. When the question of gun control is viewed in light of that essential fact, the banality of our current debate — and our proposed “solutions” — becomes scandalously clear.

Opinion | The Washington Post Editorial Board appeals to Trump and Congress to stand up to the gun lobby and prevent mass shootings. (The Washington Post)

For instance: We should raise the age at which you can buy an assault rifle — because, really, the issue is that you should be a bit older before you can mow down crowds with a highly efficient killing tool.

We should ban “bump stocks” — as though the problem is how fast bullets can be fired at people, not the fact that they can be fired at all.

We should restrict large-capacity magazines — so that it’s only possible to shoot 10 individuals in one go rather than 20. Safety first!

Or we should arm teachers, the latest and perhaps most egregious suggestion. This one comes directly from our commander in chief. “Far more assets at much less cost than guards. . . . ATTACKS WOULD END!” Trump tweeted. Yes, we should equip primary-school educators with a tool to kill classroom intruders, because a willingness and ability to end life are normal, natural qualifications for those who dare teach our nation’s young their ABCs.

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The National Rifle Association and its allies have used this sort of erroneous logic to distract the public for decades. They say, “To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun,” as though it’s a given that the bad guy must have a gun in the first place. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” as though killing isn’t more likely in the United States because people inclined to do it can obtain killing machines so quickly and easily.

All these tropes and faux-solutions are Band-Aids on the gaping wound that is American gun culture. None of them addresses the underlying problem. It is absurd that the mass availability of tools expressly designed to end our neighbors’ existence is seen as a natural, acceptable and unchangeable fact of everyday life. Our interminable conversation hinges on a fundamental failure of imagination.

But the debates stemming from the Parkland shooting show that the tide may be turning. Perhaps now is the time to ask the real question: Do we want killing tools to be a normal feature of our society or not?

It must be said: Gun owners do not ordinarily purchase their weapons with the goal of dispensing death to their fellow citizens. There are AR-15 enthusiasts who love the mechanics of the object. There are handgun owners who use their weapons in target practice, for sport. There are hunters who use their rifles to bring home food for their families.

Yet it should also be asked: How much does that matter, when we all know that the real purpose of guns is to kill? When did we conflate “freedom” with the ability to wield a weapon unobstructed rather than the ability to avoid being the victim of one? As another Parkland parent asked at the town hall, why is the inalienable right to life defended less fiercely than the right to bear arms?

It’s possible that if we admitted aloud the trade-offs inherent in the nature of guns — that in accepting them, we accept killing objects in everyday life — we could begin to curb our excesses. We could rethink what a “well- ­regulated militia” really looks like, and who is meant to take part. We could debate whether personal weaponry is the most effective means of resisting tyranny in a modern age. We might acknowledge the responsibility that gun ownership entails and usher in reasonable requirements that have thus far been beyond our reach — training and licensing, insurance and registration, trigger locks and gun safes.

But these are the questions you ask when you’re looking for solutions. To get to them, we first have to acknowledge the real problem: Yes, guns are killing us. That’s what they’re for.

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