Aaron Alexis exercised his constitutional right to bear arms when he carried his shotgun to work with him at the Washington Navy Yard where he proceeded to shoot 12 other people before the police shot him in what the Washington Post termed a “rampage.” The pattern is becoming all too familiar: You get ticked off at someone or something; you get yourself a really big gun that a lot of people are spending a lot of money and time to ensure you can purchase as easily as possible; you vent your anger by shooting a lot of people; and you get put out of your misery when the police shoot you. If it sounds like a familiar story line, it’s because you’ve heard it many times–Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Tucson, Aurora, Newtown, and now the Washington Navy Yard to name just a few of the sprees in recent years.
Sometimes people get outraged–particularly when those who are murdered are first graders. Other times people’s lives are devastated when the sons and daughters they sent off to college are murdered. Apprehension grows when one of these mass murders takes place just 25 miles from their home or a few miles from the Nation’s Capital. Sadly, sometimes the greatest outrage is because the baseball game you were supposed to see got cancelled since the stadium was too close to the murder scene.
It’s amazing how these events produce so little outrage anymore. If it were not for the parents of the Virginia Tech students and Newtown children and Gabby Giffords who herself was a victim they might pass unnoticed. In fact, there are dozens of gun-related killings every week that barely get press attention because there were only one or two victims. It seems that the number needs to get up to a dozen or more at one massacre to make the news.
Politicians for the most part are really muted on the issue. The NRA just took out of office two legislators in Colorado who had voted for modest gun control measures. The message is clear–speak out on ending gun violence and we will get you at the ballot box.
The people who will be heard will be the fear mongers who will pass the word among their audiences that Obama is going to take their guns. After each of these events, gun and ammunition sales actually increase. There is always the Second Amendment about the well-regulated militia to stand behind.
For those of us who continue to be outraged, what can we do? We can put pressure on our elected officials to work to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill; to ban assault weapons and large magazines; to require universal background checks; and to expand mental health programs. Let the Second Amendment stand for all else. Freely allow hunters and sportsmen to do their thing. Let law-abiding citizens keep their guns for protection.
Our outrage over so many tragic deaths should lead to challenging anyone’s–including the NRA’s–unwillingness to have a dialogue about balancing the Second Amendment with sane gun laws. Refusal to even consider sensible measures is an outrage in itself.
Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.