Opinion

‘Can’t do nothing’ attitude toward gun violence must change

A semi-automatic handgun was one of two handguns recovered after a driver was shot in the head in her car near Oxford Manor apartments in Durham in this 2004 photo. Several juvenile suspects were taken into custody in connection with the shooting.
A semi-automatic handgun was one of two handguns recovered after a driver was shot in the head in her car near Oxford Manor apartments in Durham in this 2004 photo. Several juvenile suspects were taken into custody in connection with the shooting. File photo

Violent crime may be declining in America but that’s little solace to the loved ones of the nearly 60 men and women massacred in Las Vegas. Or to the more than 500 concertgoers injured in last Sunday night’s attack.

Nor are downward-trending crime stats any comfort to the Americans grieving 23 other fatal shootings that occurred, with far less attention, across the nation the same day.

In Durham last year 43 people died at others’ hands, at least a 36-year high for the Bull City. Thirty-six involved guns. In two of the 43 cases, the victim died from a shooting in a prior year: 2010 and 2014.

And homcides don’t tell the full story. By mid-December of last year 193 people in Durhm had been hurt by gunfire, according to Project Safe Neighborhoods statistics, about the same as the 198 people in 2015.

Even if you are lucky enough to have never lost a family member or friend to a gunshot, are you satisfied with the U.S. homicide rate, which far and away surpasses that of other developed nations?

Of course you’re not. So let’s get to work on laws that would further diminish gun violence.

While mass shootings account for only a tiny fraction of the killing, the frequency of these large-scale homicides is increasing. With each one comes the opportunity – too often without results – to try to change the country’s “can’t do nothing” attitude toward gun safety.

One brave soul taking up the challenge is Caleb Keeter, lead guitarist for the Josh Abbott Band, which played the Vegas country music festival just hours before a gunman turned the venue into a death box.

Keeter posted Monday: “We need gun control RIGHT. NOW. My biggest regret is that I stubbornly didn’t realize it until my brothers on the road and myself were threatened by it.”

It’s no small thing for someone with Keeter’s conservative bona fides to switch sides, and we hope his words give others permission to pry open their own can of beliefs and take another look.

Already, large majorities of Americans support universal background checks, permit requirements for gun ownership and bans on the most dangerous kinds of weapons and ammunition.

Those are good starting points for action. And while it’s important that reforms respect Second Amendment rights, it’s just as critical that Washington stop hiding behind an absolutism that has long paralyzed any progress.

The response to proposed change is predictable: “Name one law that you can put in place that would have stopped the Vegas killer.” If only it were that easy. We acknowledge that change will involve inevitable fumbling and adjusting, experimentation and compromise.

But in answer to the hackneyed “when someone has the will, there’s a way” – that’s the cowardly way out. We can greatly affect the ways that bad guys exercise their wills.

For example, fighting for laws that require longer waiting periods and closer scrutiny of gun buyers’ backgrounds can ferret out mental health problems so often linked to suicides and homicides.

Re-examining the laws regulating military-style weapons can dent the kind of arsenal that the 64-year-old Vegas killer stockpiled. In his hotel sniper’s perch were at least 23 weapons, including an AR-15-type rifle with a high-capacity magazine and 12 “bump stocks,” a modification that allows a semi-automatic rifle to be fired more rapidly, simulating the effect of an automatic weapon.

To those who say gun reform is a slippery slope, that’s only the case if the destination is wrongheaded.

The end point for this debate is not “no guns.” But we need to get somewhere other than here.

This editorial has been adapted from an editorial that appeared in The Dallas Morning News.

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