The Terror of Our Guns

An AR-15 rifle, an assault weapon similar to the one used by Omar Mateen in the June 12 shooting in Orlando, on display at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting, Louisville, Kentucky, May 20, 2016
Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg/Getty Images
An AR-15 rifle, an assault weapon similar to the one used by Omar Mateen in the June 12 shooting in Orlando, on display at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting, Louisville, Kentucky, May 20, 2016

“There is a tragic inevitability of timeliness when one writes a book about guns,” notes Pamela Haag in a revealing new account of the origins of America’s gun industry, The Gunning of America. Haag began writing her book shortly after the horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where twenty-six were killed in December 2012, and completed an initial draft after the September 2013 shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., which killed twelve and injured three. The book’s publication followed soon after the ISIS-inspired attack in San Bernardino last December, in which fourteen people were killed and twenty-two injured. On June 12, a gunman wielding an assault rifle traveled to a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and, declaring allegiance to ISIS in a 911 call, opened fire on a crowded dance floor, killing forty-nine and wounding fifty-three in the worst mass shooting in US history.

President Obama has made at least fourteen public statements in response to mass shootings during his tenure. By now, the pattern of public response is tragically familiar. Cable news covers the atrocities around the clock. Victims’ relatives and political leaders express horror, outrage, and resolve. Editorials call for new laws to limit access to the tools of mass murder. Gun rights advocates respond that the answer lies in getting more guns into the right hands, not in gun bans that will prove ineffectual in a nation that already boasts approximately 300 million guns, or eighty-eight for every hundred people. (The next most gun-soaked country is Yemen, with fifty-five guns for every hundred people.)

A few isolated states may strengthen their gun laws, but at least an equal number will do the opposite. In the year after the Sandy Hook shooting, eleven states made their gun control laws tougher, but at least two dozen states loosened theirs. And on the national stage, nothing will be done. As we saw after Sandy Hook, even when the public overwhelmingly supported a modest bill to extend background checks to private gun sales, the bill never made it out of the Senate.

The Orlando and San Bernardino mass shootings, especially when viewed alongside similar carnage in Paris, make clear that individuals inspired by terrorist groups have eagerly adopted the military-style semi-automatic rifle, capable of shooting multiple rounds of bullets quickly and accurately, as a tool to produce maximum fatalities, mayhem, and fear. We are almost certain to see more…


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