The Sandy Hook slaughter: turning point for gun control?
Douglas Kellner is the George F. Kneller Professor of the Philosophy of Education at UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. This op-ed was originally posted Dec. 20 in the Huffington Post.
Will the brutal massacre of children and administrators at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut finally initiate a serious discussion of the burning need for a conversation about the need for gun control in the United States that aims at practical steps for curbing gun violence? The year 2012 will be remembered in part as the year when mass shootings spiraled out of control and shocked the conscience of the nation. As President Obama said in his speech the night of the tragedy with tears in his eyes and his face twitching, "As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it's an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago -- these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children." And then with a resolute look, Obama declared, "And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."
Unfortunately, the many shocking mass shootings this year brought to the fore other declarations of intent to tackle the out-of-control gun culture epidemic, but no meaningful action. After the shooting of Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords last year, Obama promised "sound and effective steps that will actually keep those irresponsible, law-breaking few from getting their hands on a gun in the first place." However, no resolution so far emerged, although a more intensive background check on individuals purchasing firearms was promised by the Justice Department. Likewise, while Obama cited the need for stricter gun laws earlier this year after the Aurora, Colo. movie theater shooting earlier this year, no action has yet been taken on the federal level to promote gun control so far. Moreover, under the Obama Administration, laws around the country have become more lax, allowing people to carry concealed weapons, and there are more places where people are allowed to openly carry guns, while weapon sales have boomed.
Could it be different this time? The election is over and Obama and his administration have four years to carry out meaningful gun control legislation. During the 2012 election, Republicans were widely defeated, and, in particular, extreme conservatives were defeated in race after race. Clearly, the public is fed up with conservative Republicans' politics, like their insistent opposition to any gun control measures, and may be ready for "change that matters" in gun laws.
Perhaps President Obama's emotional speech at a Sandy Hook Memorial service on Sunday, Dec. 16 could mark a turning point in the national attitude toward gun control. In a heartfelt speech full of biblical references and resonances, Obama insisted that we must do something and take up the challenges of mass shootings.
Indeed, in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook slaughter, throughout the media and public sphere there have been calls to return to the ban on assault rifles carried out by the Clinton administration in 1994 and which expired during the Bush/Cheney Administration in 2004. The shooters at both the Oregon Mall and Sandy Hill Elementary School carried AR-15 rifles and high-speed gun magazines allowing hundreds of high-velocity bullets to be fired rapidly. In the light of such awesome and destructive firepower, surely a consensus could be constructed that there is no rational reason to let private citizens run amok with deadly assault weapons, such as the rapid-fire guns that were used in both Oregon and Connecticut to kill innocents in a mall and public school.
Likewise, there are multiple calls for more intensive background checks and even gun registration which would surely limit gun ownership among criminals and people with mental health problems. While there are serious mental health issues involved in the epidemic of mass shootings in the U.S., it is definitely a mistake to reduce the problem to mental health since all of the mass shootings this year have involved males deeply immersed in gun culture who used guns to perpetrate mass murderers. Until we understand the depth of the problem of an out-of-control gun culture and take rational steps to control it, we are condemned to repeat endlessly the cycle of the murder of innocents.
Finally, it will be a mistake to wait and expect politicians on the national level to solve this problem of mass shootings and the need for gun control. This is an issue that concerns every individual who cares about their fellow citizens and wants to see a reduction in gun violence. We need a national discussion to pressure politicians on the national, state, and local level to move toward seeing the extent of the problem of gun violence, and the need for serious steps to address the cycle of mass shootings. Otherwise the epidemic of mass killings will become worse and there will be nowhere safe from gun violence.