Commentary: Our national amnesia with gun massacres

The Rock Hill HeraldDecember 28, 2012 

20070504 Gun control


The recent slaughter of 20 children in Newtown, Conn., immediately spurred responses that were both predictable and contradictory.

Elected officials across America, including President Barack Obama, declared that the nation must pass stricter laws to keep guns, especially “assault weapons” and high-capacity ammunition clips, out of the hands of people like Adam Lanza.

At the same time, merchants reported doing a land-office business as the possibility of tighter restrictions on firearm sales sent thousands of Americans running to their nearest gun store. In some states, including South Carolina, politicians called for letting teachers carry guns.

Pardon the cynicism, but I’m not getting my hopes up that much will change. Gun ownership is so prevalent in this country and the American psyche so deeply imbued with the gratification that comes from possessing them that politicians will do what they have always done after such incidents – nothing.

Why risk losing the next election when inaction on – if not outright opposition to – gun regulations helped elect them in the past?

Which reforms followed the mass shooting during a midnight screening of a Batman movie in Aurora, Colo., last July, when 12 people were assassinated and 58 injured?

And what about last year’s attack at a Tucson shopping center, which resulted in the death of six people and life-changing injury to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords?

And while we’re strolling down the Mass Murder Memory Lane, let’s not forget the 1999 carnage at Columbine High School when two adolescents killed 12 fellow students and a teacher and wounded 24 others before taking their own lives; the 2011 attack at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisc.; the 1999 shooting at the Los Angeles Jewish Community Center … the list of mass-casualty gun rampages in this nation is murders is never-ending.

The Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre didn’t come close to setting a record. That distinction belongs to the 2007 incident in which a Virginia Tech English major shot to death 32 people and wounded 17 others.

The principal difference with this latest madness was the age of the victims. It’s understandable that the nation – and much of the world – was horrified by the murder of 20 little children, but when’s the last time a public official expressed outrage about the people who died in Blacksburg, Va., on April 16, 2007?

President Obama may be calling for tighter gun regulation, but he ducked the issue during his recent campaign, no doubt remembering that the pro-gun vote was credited by many for Al Gore’s loss to George W. Bush in 2000.

Thanks to the gun lobby, identified most prominently in the NRA, it’s almost impossible to hold a rational debate on the issue.

The firearms industry has succeeded in recasting the intent of the Second Amendment. What on its face is a constitutional right to bear arms to facilitate establishment of a militia is now widely interpreted as providing near-universal immunity from gun regulation of any sort.

The industry’s propaganda machine even sets the terminology of the debate. We refer to gun control, not gun regulation. Government finds it beneficial to pass laws regulating all sorts of private activity, from owning vehicles to manufacturing prescription medicine, but no one refers to such laws as automobile control or drug control.

There’s probably little to be gained from speculating about the motives or mental state of Adam Lanza, but the notion that he enjoyed a constitutional right to bear arms ought to serve as a wakeup call.

Don’t count on it.

If previous episodes of mass violence are a guide, the firearms folks – aided by politicians whose campaign coffers they fill – will seek to shift blame for the slaughter of the Sandy Hook innocents to the usual suspects: The media, inadequate school security, the nation’s declining moral values and society’s failure to identify and treat disturbed individuals.

All of those perpetrators no doubt should share blame, but they pale next to one statistic: America’s estimated 270 million privately owned guns.

Many – but not all – of those gun owners would oppose any attempt to restrict sales or ownership of firearms.

Collectively, that makes them the NRA’s second strongest ally – next to our national amnesia.

Email former Herald Editor Terry Plumb at

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