The Only Way To Prevent Gun Violence Is To Reduce the Number of Guns

I’m tired of this. Americans are tired of this. Mass shootings are now occurring with a depressing regularity, including well over a dozen school shootings in 2018 alone.

Each and every time we are subjected to the same arguments, a circular merry-go-round of desperate anger from families and mainstream Americans, shocking bad faith by those who want to preserve the status quo, and callous opportunism by those trying to shoehorn their own separate issue advocacy into the discussion. The cycle of violence and reaction is a mandala of pain and futility.

And every time the bottom line is and remains the same: if you want to end gun violence, reduce the number of guns. It’s that simple. There is no other answer. The simple reason is that the only difference between America and other industrialized nations on the issues so often blamed for gun violence is access to guns.

It’s not mental health. While American underfunded treatment of mental health issues is terrible, mental illness is also often stigmatized and underfunded in other countries. Nor is there any reason to believe that Americans are, per capita, suffering from greater mental illness than Japanese or Swedes or Peruvians.

It’s not violent movies or video games. Every industrialized culture across the world consumes these entertainments. The French, the Kenyans and the South Koreans watch The Matrix and play Halo, but they don’t have a school shooting every week.

It’s not politics or policing. Sure, the baleful forces that produced Trumpism have given a rise to violent white supremacist groups, of which the latest shooter was one. But as the shooting of Congressman Scalise last year demonstrated, gun violence doesn’t have a single political origin and conservatives can also be its victims. Violent and racist cops kill the dangerous and innocent alike without repercussions, but it’s also true that other countries don’t have prejudice-free police forces. The reality is that other nations’ police are less frequently armed and don’t have itchy trigger fingers–in large part because they’re not expecting that any random civilian might pull out a gun against them in a moment’s notice.

It’s not diversity, as racist conservatives like to claim. Ethno-nationalists obsess constantly over how large immigrant populations have planted roots in Europe, with predictable political and social conflicts born of nativism and bigotry. But while there have been flashpoints, none of it has led to a significant statistical increase in gun violence.

It’s not toxic masculinity, either. To be more accurate: it is to a large extent as the overwhelming percentage of male shooters and the insecurities behind most of their motives attest, but America is not unique in its toxic masculinity, as anyone who has ever stepped foot in any other country and experienced their own takes on misogyny and male puffery can attest. The Italian people elected Silvio Berlusconi and are famous for their buffoonish machismo, but their communities don’t suffer from paroxysms of gunfire.

There is only one common denominator: the guns. There is no cultural solution to this problem. There is no funding solution to this problem. There is no other, easy way out.

Either we reduce access to guns (and particularly to semi-automatic rifles), or we are going to see this again. And again. And again. And again.

But if we must continue to endure the killings, at least let’s stop going through the cycle of the same garbage arguments. Let’s just concede that we are choosing to place the right of people to own weapons of death, over the lives of thousands–including schoolchildren.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.