Pro-gun rhetoric plays on our deepest fears.
“The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
That presents a simple world of good versus bad, each self-evident, where you hope the good guy has a gun and is the better shot.
It becomes more complex and more truly frightening when the “bad guys” include two 15-year-old boys like those apprehended for shooting two other teenagers at the packed Pegasus Parade in downtown Louisville Thursday evening. Or, the toddlers throughout this country who are shooting themselves and others with ever-greater frequency with guns left on counters and car seats, in purses, closets and dresser drawers.
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Fear, fueled by the National Rifle Association and the hordes of politicians whose true fear is offending that bullying juggernaut, is making this country absurdly dangerous. “People are getting shot by toddlers on a weekly basis this year,” The Washington Post reported in October.
“The streets of America are awash in guns,” a clearly distressed Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said at a news briefing after Thursday’s shooting, and “that is a problem that must be addressed.”
One important first step in addressing it — favored in poll after poll by more than 80 percent of Americans — is to require universal background checks. Every time a gun is sold, the purchaser must be cleared through a national database.
Many gun sales have been subject to background checks since 1994, when federal legislation requiring them went into effect. But experts estimate that 40 percent of gun sales — mostly Internet or gun show transactions — don’t involve background checks and many of the guns used illegally make their way into our society through those transactions.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence figures that 90 percent of guns used in crime come from 5 percent of what they call “bad apple” dealers. Louisville police have not yet identified where the 15-year-olds who were taken into custody obtained their guns.
The NRA, which will hold its annual meeting in Louisville next week (“Acres of guns, gear and outfitters”), continues to fight expanding background checks, and Congress continues to go along.
Fischer is not new to this topic. In 2013 he criticized a Kentucky gun law, backed by the NRA, prohibiting cities from banning guns in public places. The next year, after a spate of gun violence in Louisville, he asked people attending Thunder Over Louisville — the annual riverside fireworks — to leave their guns, even legal ones, at home.
Over 1,100 police officers would be there to keep the peace. Plus, Fischer noted, if gunfire breaks out, “the police aren’t going to know the difference between the good guys and the bad guys.”
Thankfully, Thursday no well-intentioned person, no “good guy” began firing in a crowded and confused scene at the parade. Police were able to quickly and safely apprehend the suspected shooters and see to the two victims, whose injuries were not life-threatening.
Even though this shooting was horrible, things could have been worse, as they inevitably will be somewhere, sometime in this heavily armed country. It is also inevitable that in the next few days or weeks another toddler will shoot someone, perhaps even the person who bought that gun to feel safer.
We can, and must, damn the NRA and pliant politicians who stoke our fears only to make us less safe.