Apodaca: Can we finally do something about the guns that make mass shootings possible?

Crosses with the names of Tuesday's shooting victims are placed outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
Crosses with the names of Tuesday’s shooting victims are placed outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 26.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

I recently visited my dentist for my regular teeth cleaning and checkup. He asked what was going on in my life, and I replied that I was excited, as I was about to go out of town to attend my son’s law school graduation.

After profuse congratulations, he told me that his young son had just participated in a preschool graduation, complete with caps and gowns. We laughed about it, agreeing that the ceremony had been equal parts absurdity and adorableness.

A few days later, my son’s commencement ceremony was everything it should be: Graduation candidates baking in the sun under layers of regalia. “Pomp and Circumstance” blaring over loudspeakers. Commencement speakers trying hard to be wise, engaging and humorous. Families beaming with pride, belting out cheers for their graduates.

We do so love the spectacle of it all, a fact that became glaringly obvious when COVID-19 temporarily took these events away from us. Some of the customs might seem gratuitous, even silly. But that’s missing the point. All major life events have traditions that are meaningful because they are rooted in history and are part of the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what we aspire to become.

Then, not long after my return home, there was terrible news. An elementary school in a small Texas town had been attacked by a lone gunman. Nineteen children and two teachers were dead.

That massacre occurred just nine days after one man died, and several others were injured, as he courageously attempted to stop a shooter at a church in Laguna Woods, and 10 days after a shooting at a Buffalo, N.Y. market left 10 people dead.

These horrific acts of violence are now also part of our history and our shared national story. They, too, are part of who we are.

We are the nation that sees kids slaughtered by gun violence on a sickeningly regular basis; the nation with more firearms than people, the country that glorifies guns and protects gun ownership over the safety of children.

Ours is the nation with the mightiest military on earth that tolerates weapons of war being used on its own people, where an 18-year-old could buy an assault weapon designed to inflict maximum casualties, and do so with far greater ease than obtaining a driver’s license. We’re the society that the leaders and citizens of other countries find incomprehensible.

Two academics are studying the offerings of the Irvine-based club that serves individuals with autism spectrum disorder in hopes of developing a model program for similar clubs in other communities.

And we are the people who refuse, time and again, to do anything to change that gruesome dynamic for the better.

I’m not relating anything new here, and that, too, is depressing. I am also well aware that I’ll get blowback for even suggesting that we take additional measures to lessen the proliferation of guns.

As we argue ad nauseam about whether the 2nd Amendment does or does not preclude common sense regulations on gun ownership — the majority of Americans support, as I do, such measures as strong, universal background checks, waiting periods, red-flag laws and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines and assault weapons — people are dying.

It’s like we’re two doctors who can’t agree on a diagnosis and treatment plan and so do nothing — and then the patient dies. Explain that to a grieving family.

Some of the arguments against gun control defy logic. One that really gets to me is the contention that regulations won’t help because those with criminal intent will just buy firearms illegally or use other weapons.

That’s wholly disproved by the data. States with stricter gun laws have lower rates of gun deaths, and those that have loosened regulations experience more shootings. Similarly, countries that have enacted stricter gun laws have seen their gun deaths decline.

No one is contending that tougher laws will stop all gun violence. But are we really satisfied with concluding that since we can’t save everyone, we shouldn’t save anyone? Isn’t a reduction in the slaughter of innocents worth consideration by even our most recalcitrant lawmakers?

In the days since the Texas school shooting, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about those terrified kids and their teachers huddled in their classrooms. No doubt most of you have had the same reaction.

After experiencing the joy of seeing my son graduate from law school I’ve been particularly fixated on all the graduations that will now never be. I can’t shake the thought that those children will never have the opportunity to walk proudly to a podium to receive their diplomas as their grateful parents embarrass them with hoots and hollers.

Today and every day from now on, those kids’ families will be haunted by the what-ifs. The missed birthday parties, holidays and homecoming dances. The love stories that won’t happen. Dreams about the future that go unfulfilled. All that could have been, what should have been.

For their sakes alone, can we finally put aside our differences, set aside the ridiculous ideas like arming teachers, and work together to try to reduce gun violence through reasonable, proven methods? And most important, can we let our legislators know that this is what we want, what we expect, and if they won’t deliver then we’ll look to someone else?

Kids should never even see an assault weapon, much less have one pointed at them. We must at least make it less likely that will happen again.

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