Commentary: Killing is too convenient in America

The Kansas City StarDecember 27, 2012 


Barbara Shelly is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.

MBR — Kansas City Star/MCT

One of the merits of that challenged institution known as the print newspaper is its ability to sum up the mood of the day, which this week would have to be described as grim astonishment.

Tuesday’s Kansas City Star retold one gun-related tragedy after another.

Funerals for children murdered by firearms in Connecticut.

Two police officers fatally shot in Topeka and a sheriff’s deputy murdered in east central Missouri.

More details of Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher’s meltdown, which ended in him fatally shooting his girlfriend and then himself.

Three bodies found shot dead in an apparent double murder suicide in Clay County.

A 4-year-old Kansas City boy on life support after being shot in an apparent drive-by shooting while strapped into a car seat.

“I went straight to the obit page,” said my friend, Joe, who reads the newspaper in between his hair-styling appointments. At least in the obituaries you find people who died at an advanced age and of natural causes.

So much mayhem at one time is unusual, thankfully. But violence is never far away. And while the latest rash of it is distressing, it does spotlight the problem. Though homicides in Kansas City occur at an average rate of every three to four days, it’s too easy to think of them as business as usual, not as the inexcusable blight that they are.

In a speech on Wednesday prompted by the massacre of 27 people in Connecticut last week by a gunman who also took his own life, President Barack Obama spoke of “the lesser known tragedies that visit small towns and big cities all across America every day.”

The president was correct to frame the problem broadly. Mass shootings are a stain on our nation’s character, but so are the killings that take place daily in America’s cities.

Murder ought to be the ultimate unthinkable act, but here it is too easily regarded as an option. Sometimes it is a cold-hearted business decision, as in a drug deal; sometimes it is an act of passion, as in a domestic violence killing; sometimes it is the product of a twisted mind which envisions killing as an act of grandeur.

In the aftermath of every mass killing, we go through a national exercise of deploring violence and debating what to do about it, while understanding the very slim odds of anything actually happening.

Yes, we need a much better support system for people under stress and for the mentally ill. But some of the politicians who are calling for that in lieu of talking about gun safety have cut state and federal mental health budgets and would deny the mentally ill access to health insurance.

Yes, we must stop glorifying violence in popular culture. A nation that is serious about stopping crime doesn’t turn shooters into heroes on movie and TV screens, or market murder as a game to a legion of computer- and-console-savvy kids. But the stuff is protected by the right to free speech, and it sells. Only the loudest of public outcries will chasten its makers.

Most of all, we need to make guns less accessible to would-be killers. But our politicians have kowtowed to pro-firearms groups to the point where we have let loose of common sense.

We are the nation that makes everyone remove their shoes at the airport because of one would-be shoe bomber. Yet we allow open sales of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, the instruments of repeated slaughter.

We permit weapons and ammunition to be sold by unlicensed dealers at gun shows and even on Facebook. And then we bemoan the fact that felons, who can’t legally possess a weapon, get their hands on guns and use them to shoot up our neighborhoods.

Obama pledged to put the weight of his office behind an effort to reduce gun violence, including bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

A determined push from the top will surely help. The president must be joined by a loud and concerted grassroots effort aimed at breaking the lock of the gun lobby in Congress and state legislatures. If we agree that murder is not an acceptable action, we have to stop making instruments of murder so widely available.

Anything else is just talking around the problem.

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