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OpEd: "Our Prayers are Not Enough" But What Is?

The ugly truth is that preventing massive gun violence might require the president to go further than even he truly wants to go.
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Depending on how you define a ‘mass shooting’ the Umpqua Community College massacre in Rosewood Oregon could be anywhere from the 15th to the 994th mass shooting of the Obama presidency.

To put that in even more stark terms, if you define ‘mass shooting’ as an incident that kills 4 or more people, according to the Washington Post the United States has not gone one full Saturday to Sunday week without a mass shooting, since Obama’s second term in office.

President Obama is rightfully disgusted and tired at Congress’s inaction, but the ugly truth is that preventing massive gun violence might require the president to go further than even he truly wants to go.

Prayers and Tweets Aren’t Enough

When speaking about the tragic shooting deaths at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg Oregon the President lashed out at the seemingly endless disingenuous expression of sadness and tears from political leaders across the spectrum whenever mass shootings occur saying, “our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel.”

This is almost the exact phrase the president used after the Navy Yard Massacre in 2013, and literally half a dozen other mass shootings that have occurred during his presidency. And he is absolutely correct.

A Google search of “candidate reactions to mass shooting” brings up the same expressions of sadness after Charleston, Sandy Hook and literally dozens of others. You don’t have to be a cynical journalist or a snarky pundit to see that many of the same ‘praying’ political leaders are the ones obstructing any ‘common sense’ gun policy.

But that begs the question, if suddenly these obstructionists changed their mind, would any of the policies on the table actually prevent these tragedies from happening again?

Guns, Minds and Hearts

Imagine for a moment a Congress and state legislatures that aren’t absolutely in the pocket of, or completely afraid of the NRA. If President Obama, the Senate and the House with the guidance of the Department of Justice were to seriously implement some of the main gun control policies they advocate, yes gun violence would go down. However mass killings won’t stop because our legal solutions don’t go far enough.

For example, imagine if legislation is passed to end the ‘gun show loophole’. As of September only 18 states require background checks and record keeping of gun sales between private individuals. Closing this loophole would likely prevent some gun violence, but the mass shooters of the last few years usually purchased their guns legally at places like Wal-Mart or Gander Mountain where background checks are required. The Sandy Hook shooter stole his mother’s guns but she had legally purchased her guns.

Another suggestion is to improve ‘mental health screenings’ to prevent men and women suffering from mental illness from purchasing guns. The idea of limiting the purchasing power of an American citizen because they suffer from mental illness isn’t even a slippery slope, it’s a roaring flood pushing the public off a cliff into discrimination and second class citizenship for people whose minds happen to work ‘differently’.

There are hundreds of thousands of Americans currently suffering from or living with mental illness, and the vast majority of them have never harmed themselves or anyone else. Besides, the Aurora theatre shooter was clearly disturbed, but since he had no criminal record, and hadn’t been deemed by a doctor to be a danger to himself or others he could buy all the guns he wanted.

Attempts to predict mass shooters in advance seldom work anyway, despite the fantasy of sophisticated profilers and sci-fi pre-crime tactics Americans are still shocked when shooters are African American (or bi-racial like the Oregon shooter) so it’s not as if ‘mass shooters’ are that easy to identify.

I am a strong advocate of making a gun license similar to a driver’s license procedure. Just like you have to take classes and tests to prove you can actually safely drive a car, gun owners should have to take classes and tests to prove they can safely use, store and maintain a gun.

If you want to drive a forklift instead of a Honda Civic you need to take more classes, similarly if you want to buy an automatic weapon you should have to take more courses. As much as I believe such a plan might weed out spontaneous shooters, even trained cops teaching required gun safety courses wouldn’t be able to identify (let alone fail) someone determined to cause harm.

The Solution No One Wants

This is not a roundabout way of chalking up mass shootings to “stuff happens” (Thanks Jeb Bush), there is a solution to mass shootings; it’s just not a nice one. If we want to stop mass shootings, the government would need to confiscate or buy back millions of guns.

There is no doubt that it works--Australia, one of our closest cultural cousins, has all but eliminated mass shootings by employing this policy. After a mass shooting in 1996, the Australian government (under Conservative John Howard) bought back almost 600,000 guns from the public and implemented strict laws for gun purchases. Gun crime and gun suicides dropped 59 percent and 65 percent over the next decade and there has not been one mass shooting in Australia since (while there had been 11 in the decade prior to the new laws).

So we know how to solve the problem, for good, but no one in America is willing to make that change or even make the suggestion.

I guess, political leaders will just continue to offer prayers and condolences to the dozens of victims of preventable murder every four or five months. But I tend to agree with President Obama, in the wake of such senseless death, tears and prayers just aren’t enough.