In the meantime, of course, there’s been a wide variety of responses, many of them thoughtful, some not so much. Can our own past be of any assistance? I think so, there’s at least one analogy we can draw from our recent history.
In the mid-twentieth century, the number of automobiles in America was rising rapidly, and with them the number of fatal accidents. As Americans began to grow alarmed by all the deaths, advocacy groups began to propose safety regulations. The car industry used its lobbying clout in state assemblies and congress to fight the changes. The industry argued that people were responsible for the deaths after all, not the cars, and therefore driver’s education would be the best approach.
Driver’s ed certainly was a good program. It’s a pity that budget cuts like the ones we’ve seen in Georgia have led to these programs virtually disappearing. But as more and more data was accumulated on the nature of car accidents, it became clearer that regulations were needed to force automobiles to be designed and used more safely, things like graduated licensing, seat-belt laws, requiring all drivers to have insurance, safety inspections, speed limits, and more recently mandatory air bag use. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine how much resistance there was to such efforts; I well remember as a child how few people used seat belts, some going as far as cutting the belts because they were “annoying” or because “no one was going to tell them to use them!”
Add to these efforts social movements like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and we’ve seen, over time, the number of fatalities per capita drop significantly from car accidents. Car accidents still happen all the time, unfortunately, and people do continue to die, but given how many cars and people there are using them now, the deaths in the accidents that happen have grown statistically far fewer in number.
And, no one’s had their cars taken away from them as a result.
So, I believe the reasonable 90+ percent of our population can find answers to the exact causes of gun-related deaths like Newtown that don’t involve banning guns on one extreme, or the outright denial of the need to do anything by people forever living out “Red Dawn” paranoid fantasies on the other extreme.
The best first step is to simply start collecting thorough data on all gun-related deaths so we know exact causes and develop preventive measures to stop them. Such data is out there but its scattered and scarce thanks to lobbying by the gun industry which has sought, irrationally, to prevent its collection.
We also have to carefully figure out ways to limit access to guns by people who have certain mental illnesses. This is much easier said than done, but we have to find ways to do it. Two dozen dead 5- and 6-year-olds, along with some of their teachers, requires us to do nothing less.
Tom McMahan is a public school teacher in Catoosa County and the Chair of the Dade County Democratic Committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.