ESTRICH: The culture of gun violence

“Turn on the TV,” my friend Annie said. No hello — it has to be something bad. “The Super Bowl.” At first I thought Las Vegas. But no, this must be Kansas City. A shooting. One woman dead. Twenty-two people shot. Eleven children. Here we go again. What could be more American? The schools were closed. A million people gathered to celebrate. And this.

Kids. Teenagers. A personal dispute turns into a national tragedy. Again.

When does it stop?

The short answer: It doesn’t.

It’s an open carry state. Last year set a record of 184 gunshot deaths. A coincidence?

The Super Bowl shooting, on Valentine’s Day, was the sixth anniversary of the Parkland school shooting. Another coincidence? A group of the parents issued a statement condemning lax gun laws. Others took to social media to point out that the law wasn’t the problem, or the answer, since it’s against the law for juveniles to buy guns.

So they got them anyway.

Three people were arrested, two of them armed. Two of the three suspects detained were juveniles.

Eighty percent of the public favors commonsense regulation of guns. Instead, we have a patchwork that varies from state to state, and uneven enforcement. Every time we have a shooting, we take to our separate sides, and nothing happens. What is wrong with us? Why do we routinely accept commonsense regulation of cars and bridle at the words “gun control”?

The short answer is that “we” don’t. A minority of a minority has paralyzed the political process. A minority of a minority has taken over our free will, controls the majority, turns our streets into battlegrounds.

And then something happens, as it always does. A record gets broken. Children get traumatized. A mother gets shot.

We pretend we are helpless when we’re not.

We pretend nothing can be done when it could.

We act like it’s inevitable when it isn’t.

And then most of it goes away, gets forgotten, except for those who bear the scars, forever.

Guns don’t kill, but shooters do. People with guns do, and they must be licensed. Checked out. Trained. Controlled. Punished when they threaten the lives of others. Guns are inherently dangerous objects. If you aren’t licensed and trained, you don’t have a right to a car. You have to pay to register it. You have to be tested to drive it. You are responsible for what you do with it. You must have insurance to use it. How simple can it be? How complicated can we make it?

Why aren’t responsible gun owners on the forefront of gun safety? Why aren’t they the ones with the most interest, not the least, in commonsense regulation? Why haven’t they assumed the leadership role in encouraging parents to teach and promote the lawful possession and handling of guns and, yes, making sure that those who are dangerous do not have easy access to weapons?

Consider this irony. When there is a highly publicized shooting, it almost always follows that there is a renewed debate about gun control. And studies then report an increase — not a decrease — in gun sales. Presumably those are lawful sales. Presumably. But what we need to do is stop the teenagers who become part of the gun culture — in many cases, beginning as targets of violence and later as perpetrators. Once they’ve progressed on the cycle of violence, it’s too late. Once they take their guns out, or go out and get them, it’s too late. The challenge is to intervene earlier, in a positive way, to avoid resorting to guns and the culture of teen violence before it’s too late. Which it was last week in Kansas City.