Florida will hit the 1 million-mark for concealed-weapon permit-holders in the coming days, a stat reported last week that received scant attention.
That wouldn’t have been the case if Sandy Hook Elementary School was in what’s sometimes called “the Gunshine State” instead of Connecticut.
Reporters, advocates and experts would have descended on Florida, combed through its generous gun laws and examined the line between statute and slaughter.
That’s what we do as a society: We try to wring reason out of the senseless.
But we’re probably not soon going to find a solution to stopping mass shootings like those that happened in Connecticut, Oregon, Wisconsin, Colorado or Florida this year.
Nor will we have a reasonable debate, either. There is too much fear, too much money, too many conflicting statistics, too much emotion and too many divisive politics and agendas at play. That doesn’t mean more laws are or are not needed.
It’s just that it’s easier to kill with guns than regulate them more.
President Barack Obama, though, suggested on Sunday he’d try for more gun control, despite the complexities.
“Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard?” he said in Newton, Conn. “Surely we can do better than this.”
But some say calls to talk gun laws are premature.
“I hope we can take a break from the politics of shooting for a few days to mourn,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, wrote on Twitter the day before, summing up the sentiment of gun-rights advocates after every high-profile shooting.
One of the first to make headlines this year: a North Miami Beach funeral home shooting where alleged gangsters wounded 12 mourners and killed two in March. Weeks before, a man named George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a Miami Gardens teen in a case that put Florida’s gun laws in the crosshairs.
Zimmerman is pleading self-defense under the state’s Stand Your Ground lethal-force law, a model for other gun-happy states. As the facts emerge, it’s tough to tell what happened or whether the shooting would have taken place absent Stand Your Ground.
Zimmerman is a concealed-weapon permit holder in Florida. He has company.
On Wednesday, two days before Sandy Hook, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam held a press conference to mark the 25th year of the concealed-weapon permit program.
Putnam said we’ll hit the millionth-permit mark this week, making Florida a leader. Putnam noted that slightly more than 7,200 permits — only three-tenths of a percent of the permits ever issued-— have been revoked due to crime by the permit holder or changes in the law since 1987.
“Responsible use of these licenses is overwhelmingly the rule,” Putnam said, according to the Florida Current.
The problem: madmen and their access to weaponry.
The U.S. has well over 310 million non-military firearms (about enough for every citizen), about a third of households own guns and polls indicate that Americans are about evenly divided on whether to regulate guns more or keep the laws as is. There’s also a thriving and powerful gun lobby and industry.
And unlike other consumer items we tightly regulate, guns are enshrined in the Constitution.
Perhaps if we could start from scratch or if the framers of the Constitution knew what an AR-15 was, it would be different.
But that’s not how it is.
So it’s a matter of time before a future madman shoots more people at a funeral, movie or school.
Preliminary reports indicate the Sandy Hook shooter swiped the weapons from his mother. He didn’t get them at a gun show (where buyers often aren’t back-grounded).
How would realistic regulations have stopped him? Some have called for tighter controls on semi-automatic weapons, like the Bushmaster .223 reportedly used in the rampage. But the shooter allegedly had relatively common, semi-automatic handguns, too. Still, there’s room for discussion about modern weapon technology like, say, high-volume clips or devices called “slide-fire stocks,” which can make a semi-automatic rifle into a rudimentary machine gun that fires multiple rounds a second.
Yet trying to ban these weapons or devices can make them more desirable and therefore more common. And then there are the statistics.
As Florida has loosened its gun laws, the violent crime rate declined to 519 per 100,000 residents last year — a drop of 54 percent since 1989.
In that time, murders have fallen 30 percent to 985, according to state Uniform Crime Report data that also showed 70 percent of the killings happened with firearms.
Some argue the falling crime rate is coincidental to loosening gun laws and, controversially so, that the legalization of abortion has more to do with the decrease in crime across Florida as well as the rest of the nation. Others hotly dispute the notion.
Still, the rising tide of violence that gun-control advocates have warned of in Florida hasn’t statistically appeared.
The data show that the chances of getting shot or killed are relatively slight in the United States or Florida.
The more people fear getting shot, the more they’re likely to either buy into the call for more or less gun control.
Some entertain the notion that teachers should be armed to stop intruders. But studies indicate that schools are actually among the safest places.
And the liberal Mother Jones magazine published a study of mass shootings indicating that the notion of the armed citizen stopping gun-toting madmen is more myth than reality. There are cases, though, of law-abiding gun owners stopping criminals.
Where does all this complexity and data leave us? With a simple explanation: that the world and our nation are full of evil.
It’s an inadequate answer when you think about a small New England town bearing the weight of 20 little coffins and six more adult ones during the Hanukkah and Christmas seasons.
“In the past 48 hours, I’ve said the phrase ‘I don’t know’ about 1,000 times,” the Rev. Richard Scinto, said Saturday during a homily at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Newtown, Conn, according to the Associated Press.
“That not-knowing has got to be the worst part of this whole thing,” he said.
Then, Sunday, someone called in a bomb threat at the church. It had to be evacuated. So the not-knowing continues. So will the murders in other places. So will the questions as we grope about for solutions that never seem to come and that are anything but simple.