Volume 34, Number 3

The Epidemic of Gun Violence
and an Utter Failure of Public Policy

Fred Schepartz

I hope everyone enjoyed Ken Poyner’s essay about the role masculinity plays in creating the pathology that leads to mass shootings.

At least that’s the way I see it. Not all men and boys are killers, but for the ones who are, masculinity plays a significant role in creating this deadlly pathology.

And with all due respect to Ken, I would like to look at the other side of the equation, the macro side.

This epidemic of gun violence is due in a large part to an utter failure of public policy.

We need a serious reform of gun laws. We desperately need it.

But we can’t get it done. Only the most tepid of proposals have a chance to become law.

Whenever there is a mass shooting there are calls for reforms that might prevent such violence.

The response is thoughts and prayers.

I could leave it there, but then it would be a pretty short editorial.

Well, I can’t just leave it at that.

We have a country sharply divided just about right down the middle. And we have one political party for whom any notion of gun law reform is an absolute non-starter. And it’s all about the dollars, the massive amount of money in our political system and its utterly corrosive effect.

We have to look no further than the NRA to see the problem.

There was a time, a long time ago, when the NRA actually represented the interests of individual gun owners. Those were more quaint times, but such times are long, long gone.

Now the NRA is a big, big, big-money operation, raking in tons of money and spending tons of money greasing palms and handing out 30 pieces of silver to any politician who swears fealty to the gun manufacturers whose interests they represent. The NRA is all about playing the political game to get what they want, and they don’t care how it gets done, even if it means serving as a conduit for getting laundered Russian money into the pockets of American political candidates, which did in fact happen during the 2016 election cycle. Remember Maria Butina? Here in Wisconsin, we certainly remember the infamous photo of her and Scott Walker during his ill-fated, yet amusing run for president. Oh, and Walker certainly knows a few things about laundering campaign money.

The gun manufacturers want no laws on the books that would in any way impede gun ownership. They want our streets, our cities and our towns flooded with guns.

In addition, they want people to be scared. They want people to live in fear. Fear is good for business.

And if guns sales rise after a mass shooting, so be it.

And then there’s the Second Amendment, perhaps the most misunderstood 27 words in our entire governmental system. Or in the immortal words of Inigo Montoya, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I don’t think James Madison imagined that the Second Amendment would allow people to open carry AR-15 assault rifles in Walmart. I do think that if Madison were to have a conversation with a strict textualist like Antonin Scalia, he would tell him to hit the books a little harder and drop doctrinaire beliefs.

But here we are. The Second Amendment is a tool for the Republican Party, a wedge to not just get ordinary people to vote for them, but to convince ordinary people that anyone who is not a Second Amendment absolutist is the enemy, an other to be vilified because they intend to take your guns, to steal your freedom.

Thus, the madness of so-called “constitutional carry,” as if mere conceal carry laws aren’t enough. Forget about regulating “ghost guns.” Forget about “red flag” laws even though they would surely save lives. Forget about an assault weapons ban, even though we know that it was quite effective at reducing violence and saving lives. It’s a non-starter. Think about that next time you see a family photos of a Republican politician where everyone, even the youngest of children, are holder assault rifles.

Guns are readily available, at the wrong times and in the wrong places, especially when and where there is conflict. The use of guns does not make for a proper means of conflict resolution.

I read the police blotter in my local newspaper. All too often, I read stories involving an argument that turns into a gunfight. The result is lives that are destroyed. Someone is dead or badly wounded. Someone is going to prison for the rest of or much of the rest of their life.

A recent homicide is especially tragic. A father and son were arguing over literally 25 cents. The son had been constantly asking his father for money, but the dad wasn’t particularly well off. He had previously given his son a couple post-dated checks and demanded that he do so again. The dad said he couldn’t, that he had credit card bills to pay. The son got angry. Dad gave his son the last two dollars in his wallet. The son wanted more. The father dug for some change, which he handed over.

The son got angry. He verbally threatened his father, then started shoving him. The son owned a gun that he had left sitting out. The father picked up the gun and fired at point-blank range, killing his son.

The father is likely to claim self-defense at trial. He may or may not die in prison, but he will surely die of a broken heart.

Another very disturbing article, this time a wire-service story, focused on how teenagers have easy access to guns. And frequently, guns get pulled when there is a conflict.

In stark terms, the article discussed how teens used to settle conflict with their fists. While we would prefer more positive forms of conflict resolution, fists generally don’t kill.

But guns do kill.

Where are teenagers getting guns?

They steal them from careless parents or other adults they know. Or they steal them from cars. It’s too easy, and if a teen knows that other teens are likely to be armed, they will make efforts to arm themselves.

And getting back to the police blotter, I all too often read stories where an argument turns into a gunfight where the participants are teenagers. And we are talking about people who aren’t fully developed intellectually and emotionally. When confronted with conflict, they will act impulsively. And with deadly results when guns are added to the equation.

All because our streets are awash with guns. The math is obvious and inescapable. The more guns there are, the more likely that they lead to tragedy.

We used to have an assault weapon ban, but we don’t anymore.

We could have universal background checks, but we don’t.

We could have red flag laws, but we don’t have them in most places.

We could have commonsense determine public policy, but we don’t. All we have are expressions of thoughts and prayers.