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Political Animal

Nothing Changes

If being heavily armed and willing to shoot back was the only thing keeping us from mass shootings, then there'd be an empty wall in Washington where it lists all the police officers killed in the line of duty.

It seems I write this column every year.

My uncle, the one with whom I share a name, was a Chicago cop killed by a guy with a gun.

I used to work for and with a guy who was shot in the head by a guy who was trying to kill the president of the United States; you know, a guy who is surrounded almost 24-7 by some of the most heavily armed, best-trained law enforcement officers in the world. Didn’t stop Jim Brady or Ronald Reagan from taking a bullet.

When I started in radio in Washington D.C. during the late ’80s, when the city was regularly called the “murder capital,” I was sent to a school with junior gangbangers who were very open about the fact that they carried guns wherever they wanted. I was sent to cover a school assembly after one of the kids—a known gang leader—was killed in a drive-by. At the time, he was surrounded by his posse of five other kids, all armed. I asked another kid, who was pretty upfront about being a gangbanger, what lesson he took from this.

The kid told me, “I need to have 10 bodyguards.”

If being heavily armed and willing to shoot back was the only thing keeping us from mass shootings, then there’d be an empty wall in Washington where it lists all the police officers killed in the line of duty, my uncle included.

America is not the only country in the world with mentally ill people. Simple logic will tell you that other countries have just as many people with mental problems as we do. The only difference is, here, they have access to firearms—everything from pistols to military-style, semi-automatic weapons that have absolutely zero civilian use whatsoever.

If you think you need a firearm to “defend yourself” at all times, then you don’t live in America: in your head, you live in a failed state like Somalia. If you think you need guns because you need to defend yourself against your government, then you’ve already bought into treason, and you clearly don’t believe in the United States of America. There are plenty of democracies all over the world that have restricted access to firearms, and they haven’t turned into Nazi Germany. And they don’t have mass shootings of schoolchildren as a regular occurrence.

When I spent those years working with Jim Brady, the guy who got shot in the head by John Hinckley, we weren’t even arguing to take away anyone’s guns; you’ll remember: Jim’s a Republican. We were simply arguing that guns needed to be treated like cars—registration for the firearms, licensing for the users. Mandate trigger locks and gun safes around children. Waiting periods before firearm purchases so there’s time to do a full, thorough, and complete mental-health and background check. But the NRA (and the people who are even more radical than they are, and yes, they exist) always wants to make gun control a false choice in this country: They say it’s either no regulation or “take away all the guns.” They say there’s no middle ground. And they have fought against every single one of those sensible restrictions I just mentioned, even though no less conservative a justice than Antonin Scalia has said that there is nothing in the Second Amendment to preclude sensible restrictions on firearm ownership and use.

But the dirty little secret is most crimes with guns are committed with legally purchased firearms. And please remember, that “law-abiding gun owner” is still a “law-abiding gun owner” until the second he pulls the trigger and someone dies. (And really, under our system of law, he’s still a law-abiding gun owner until he’s convicted in a court of law.)

I left that job with Brady 10 years ago, when it became readily apparent that a mass shooting in a school—that time, in Littleton, Colo.—wasn’t enough to even change the law to mandate background checks on guns sold by independent individuals at gun shows, which is where the two kids who killed all their classmates at Columbine legally purchased their guns. We took some of the survivors from that shooting up to Capitol Hill. Some members of Congress literally avoided them as if they were carriers of Ebola.

Nothing changed.

I wish I could say that something will change after this tragedy. But I’ve seen it happen before. And deep down, it’s probably going to have to get a lot worse than this before Americans want to do something about the regular, senseless slaughter of their colleagues, co-workers, families, and children.

I can hope. But that’s about all that I have left.

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