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Newsletter: Opinion: San Bernardino and America’s infatuation with guns

San Bernardino shooting

Investigators search the assailants’ SUV in San Bernardino on Thursday morning.

(KTLA)

Good morning. I'm Paul Thornton, The Times' letters editor, and it is Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. Here's a look back at the week in Opinion.

Remember the mass shooting? No, not the one in San Bernardino on Wednesday — America's worst since 2012, and that's saying something — but the killing of three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., the day after Thanksgiving?

The slaughter of Americans by gun-wielding individuals — some clearly insane, some acting on a long-held grudge, others radicalized by religion or possibly even politics, and all of them armed with weapons of war — has become so distressingly common that it's impossible to refer to a recent shooting without giving more specific details to narrow the list of incidents. The massacre in San Bernardino this week (14 people dead) and the Colorado Springs shooting (three dead) are the most recent examples in the public consciousness, but just as surely as Charleston, S.C., (nine killed) came after Newtown, Conn., (26 dead, mostly young children, in a shooting at a school), there will be another tragedy.

The Times' editorial board, writing the day of the San Bernardino shooting, says the American infatuation with guns borders on a societal suicidal impulse:

It will be days, most likely, before sufficient details and context are known to understand the atrocious act of violence that occurred Wednesday at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. But it is not too soon to say that the common element in the vast majority of these mass killings — and in the daily parade of violence across the country — is the easy access to firearms. From 1998 to 2013, an average of 11,500 homicides each year were committed with guns in the U.S., according to data compiled by GunPolicy.org. For the last few years, there have been more guns than people in the United States, by several counts.

When these mass murders occur, the instinct is to take a deep dive into the details to learn as much as is possible about who did what and why. That's important to the investigation of the specific incident, obviously, but it misses the bigger picture, which is that such attacks have become so routine they have almost lost their ability to shock. Phrases such as “active shooter” and “shelter in place” are now part of our lexicon. The Department of Homeland Security has posted a webinar for schools and churches on how to respond to shooters.

Enough. This nation's infatuation with guns — inflamed by the ludicrous stances of the NRA, and abetted by Congress' fear of that powerful but irresponsible group — is suicidal. There are too many guns, too easily obtained. Often they are in the hands of those who should not have them at all, such as the mentally ill.

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Your thoughts and prayers are needed — perhaps even more than gun control. Writing on the Op-Ed page in response to the New York Daily News' viral print front page excoriating politicians who offer public piety instead of tighter firearms laws, Michael Brendan Dougherty says that critics miss the point of such praying and wonders if there's any evidence to show that more gun control would curtail mass shootings. L.A. Times

Yes, guns really are the problem. Scott Martelle writes of the blinders we wear when it comes to domestic gun-enabled terrorism: "The 9/11 terror attacks showed unequivocally that international terrorism poses a serious threat to the United States. But even though the deaths that result from decades of everyday mass shootings far exceed those from terrorism, they quickly become local issues. Mental health issues. Bad parenting issues. Everything but what they really are — a persistent and deadly threat to American citizens that has endured for years." L.A. Times

Hasn't San Bernardino suffered enough? Mariel Garza writes of the municipal victim of Wednesday's shooting: "This working-class city on the eastern edge of the great Los Angeles basin has been the subject of so much bad news lately you could call it Bad News Berdoo. Among other things, it has the distinction of being the poorest city of its size in California — and the second poorest in the U.S. after Detroit. Its urban core is crumbling, literally, and afflicted with rampant drug use and despair. The city survived bankruptcy, but it is suffering the after-effects and subsequent political upheaval. (Joe Mozingo's superbly written series this year paints the sad portrait of San Berdoo.) On top of all this, people can't even spell its name. One trending Twitter hashtag Wednesday was #sanbernadino (without the 'r')." L.A. Times

That once-customary period of nonpolitical mourning after a shooting? Readers are past that. In the hours after the shooting, most of our letter writers started right off debating gun control and terrorism. Readers who support gun rights focused on the possible terrorism aspect of the San Bernardino shooting; those who support tighter gun control said mass shootings are the inevitable result of a country awash in hundreds of millions of firearms. L.A. Times

Back to that other high-profile shooting in Colorado Springs: Columnist Jonah Goldberg says it's absurd to blame the harsh rhetoric of anti-abortion activists if it inspired the accused killer to target a Planned Parenthood clinic. The Times' editorial board wishes our public dialog on abortion rights were more civil but insists that pro-life activists have a right to their sometimes over-the-top pronouncements so long as they do not directly incite violence. Readers' opinions on whom to blame for the violence are varied.

Next week, I hope to write a newsletter about something besides mass shootings. Until then, let me know what you think of this one by emailing paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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