It seems to have become a weekly news feature — how many people were killed at a movie theater, college campus or other locale by some person with a gun?
In the past few years, Americans have witnessed shootings at a Batman movie in Colorado, a 3-year-old shooting and killing his father in Indiana after he managed to get ahold of a loaded weapon, and most recently, nine people were killed in Waco after a fight among biker gangs.
Amazingly, Americans seem to see this as normal, which is a powerful and sad testament about how anesthetized to this ongoing violence we have become. And despite all of this violence and loss of life, many in Texas and elsewhere want to increase gun ownership and allow people to openly carry firearms.
Since 9/11, Americans have been deeply concerned about threats to national security. Our tendency has been to define national security only in terms of external threats. A much better way to see national security is in terms of the well-being of our population.
If we think of it this way, the evidence is clear — a heavily armed population in the U.S. is not secure because our culture does not seem to lend itself well to allowing the proliferation of guns.
There are many law-abiding American gun owners who do not go out and kill people and who keep their guns stored safely, but as a whole, Americans do not seem to be able to handle gun ownership in a way that permits maintenance of a civil society.
The reality is that the significant numbers of bad apples have spoiled it for those law-abiding gun owners, and it’s time that gun rights organizations such as the National Rifle Association recognize this and begin working with those who want realistic gun control laws in part as a way of building trust with those who do not own guns. It’s the one thing we agree on: a desire for a safe and secure society.
Often, those against gun control argue that if you take away the guns from regular people, only the criminals will have guns, thus people need to be armed in order to protect themselves. This has not proved true in countries such as Australia, Japan and South Korea that have fairly recently enacted strict gun control laws.
There is simply no need for a civilized society to tolerate the type of gun-related violence that Americans seem to accept as normal. Other modern industrial countries have realized, in some cases long ago, that it is unnecessary for people in a free society to have easy access to guns. The solution to gun-related crime is not further arming the public.
It involves enacting comprehensive gun control laws that prohibit many forms of gun ownership, significantly curtailing or eliminating access to and the ability to purchase guns, and implementing programs in which the government confiscates or purchases illegal guns already in circulation among the public.
For those firearms that are legal, ownership should be tied not only to background checks, but to extensive and mandatory training in the safe use and storage of weapons. Evidence from other countries shows clearly that these types of measures will significantly reduce gun-related deaths and lead to a safer and more secure society.
In an era of extreme concern about national security, Americans need to recognize that one of the greatest threats to national security is their own heavily armed population. We need to enact legislation that will greatly reduce gun-related crimes and protect people from the dangers associated with widespread gun access and ownership.
Unfortunately, our proven inability to handle widespread gun ownership suggests strongly that the way to do this is to deeply restrict access to and ownership of most types of guns.
Americans should ask themselves whether they want to live in a society that is secure because everyone is ready to shoot one another or one that is secure because people have peace of mind and experience freedom from violence and the freedom to pursue their lives in safety and happiness rather than fear.
John Traphagan is a professor of religious studies and anthropology at The University of Texas at Austin.
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, Fort Worth Star Telegram, San Antonio Express News, The Oklahoman and the McAllen Monitor.
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— Texas Perspectives (@TexPerspectives) May 19, 2015