Guns don't kill people; people do. We've heard it time and again, usually after some horrific shooting like the one that occurred in a Florida high school on Wednesday, which left 17 people who had been about to leave school on Valentine's Day dead. Of course, a person pulled the trigger, allegedly a 19-year-old who had been expelled from the school. But without an AR-15 at his disposal, a deranged young man would most likely not be able to wreak the kind of carnage we saw here. The Second Amendment was not meant to put such lethal weapons in the hands of individuals intent on killing their fellow citizens — and it's time we quit pretending otherwise.
I own guns. As someone who has often lived in remote places, far away from police in an emergency, I appreciate the right to be able to protect myself. But I am also willing to accept that my right does not extend to amassing an arsenal or purchasing weapons more appropriate for military use than self-protection or sport. Most Americans, I suspect, agree with me, even those who own guns. So why do politicians refuse to consider even sensible restrictions that might keep guns, especially the most lethal ones, out of the hands of would-be mass murderers?
In October, a madman killed 58 people at an outdoor country music concert in Las Vegas, the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history. The perpetrator had a virtual arsenal at his disposal, which he had amassed over time, with no authority scrutinizing why he was buying so many guns and so much ammunition. To do so, Second Amendment purists contend, would be to violate his rights, as if the Founding Fathers thought every citizen in a well-regulated militia should have a right to equip himself with more lethal firepower than the British expended at the battles of Lexington and Concord, where only 49 colonists died.
In November, another deranged individual walked into a small church in rural Texas and killed 26 parishioners. Indeed, churches have, in recent years, been a favorite target of mass shooters, including Dylann Roof, who was convicted of murdering nine people in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. Schools, too, have been the frequent scene of horrendous killings. Perhaps the most horrific was Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where the victims were 20 6- and 7-year-olds and six teachers. But other school killings come to mind: Columbine High School in suburban Denver, where 13 innocent people died, as well as Virginia Tech, where a student killed 32 people. The death count goes on and on — and has been mounting at an alarming rate recently. Three of the 10 most lethal killings in modern U.S. history have occurred in the past five months. How many more people have to die before Congress acts?
Donald Trump was once a champion of sensible controls on guns. In 2000, he wrote in his book "The America We Deserve," "I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun." In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, Trump tweeted, "President Obama spoke for me and every American" when he called for stronger gun laws in response. But he changed his position when he sought the GOP nomination for president, largely because the National Rifle Association and its members might have derailed his chances. After the Las Vegas slaughter, President Trump wanted to talk about mental illness — though there is no evidence the killer was mentally ill — but wasn't willing to talk about changes in gun laws. However, he did promise, "We'll be talking about gun laws as time goes by."
Enough time has gone by, Mr. President. Another 17 are dead, teenagers who will not come home to their parents and siblings, teachers who will never stand before another class of eager students. It's time we forget the slogans that diminish the role that guns play in these tragedies and figure out how to keep weapons meant for use on the battlefield out of our schools and churches and off our streets.
Linda Chavez is chair of the Center for Equal Opportunity and a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center. To find out more about Linda Chavez, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.