At least 65 people have been shot to death in Los Angeles County since Sept. 1 — four in encounters with police, and most of the rest the sole victim of a single crime. The latter generated none of the drama of a mass shooting and thus no national outcry, political posturing or hashtags demanding change. The circumstances varied from an apparent gang hit to a fight between two acquaintances in a liquor store to an estranged husband killing his wife and then himself. Such is the mundane nature of most gun violence in America: a daily parade of the dead barely noted outside small circles of the victims’ families and friends.
That is the backdrop for one of the thorniest public policy debates of our time: gun control. The National Rifle Assn.'s absurd position is that an armed America is a safe America. Although academics say it’s difficult to do a controlled study, researchers have repeatedly found that places with fewer guns and more controls tend to have less gun violence. No, guns don’t shoot people, but people with guns do. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counted 505 deaths from unintentional shootings, 11,208 gun-related homicides and 21,175 gun suicides in 2013. Untracked are the tens of thousands of people wounded and maimed.
So what to do about it? Reasonable gun control is a start, and Senate Democrats recently offered four such proposals. Their bills would require background checks in online and private purchases from unlicensed sellers; close a loophole that allows a gun sale to proceed if the required background check isn’t finished within three days; bar sales to people convicted of abusing or stalking a romantic interest; and crack down on “straw purchases” by legal buyers for banned ones. Given the NRA’s stranglehold on Congress, however, these sensible steps will go nowhere.
Standing a better chance is a bill by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) that would improve access to mental health treatment and give states more incentive to send the National Instant Criminal Background Check System the names of people whose mental illness disqualifies them from gun ownership. But the NRA-backed bill would also weaken gun controls by allowing the mentally ill to buy a gun once released from a facility regardless of the state of their mental health; currently they have to obtain a court’s approval. If that ridiculous section remains in the bill, the Senate should vote it down.
Cornyn’s measure also is part of a general NRA deflection. Mass shootings add to guns’ bad reputation, the NRA seems to say, so let’s fix mental illness. But mental health rarely is cited as a factor in gun deaths other than suicides and mass killings. Our national crisis is the guns themselves and a political attitude that finds it completely sane to let this daily carnage continue.