Like millions of other Americans, I was earlier this month once again forced to watch footage of a killing field, this time in Las Vegas. The sound of unfathomably rapid gunfire, round after round after round. The jerky images of people running, people ducking, people lying motionless, sometimes one on top of another. Someone screaming. Someone crying.
What happened on Oct. 1 in Las Vegas is, at least for now, the worst mass shooting in modern American history. What happens next is up to all of us.
Having worked on gun violence prevention for more than 20 years, I am all too aware of the familiar script. You know the one: People are killed with guns; politicians respond by tweeting their sincerest thoughts and prayers; the National Rifle Association declares that nothing can be done to prevent gun violence, except selling more guns to more people; and then, a country, more shaken and more cynical than before, moves on, until the next time, and the time after that.
Gun deaths. Do nothing. Repeat.
Each year, about 33,000 Americans die from gun violence, an average of 90 per day. Last year, the American Medical Association declared gun violence a public health crisis. As such, it demands a public response — one rooted in honesty, wisdom and human decency.
The truth is that we know how to prevent gun violence. Based on credible research and the experience of other countries and even some states, we know which public policies would be most effective in reducing gun deaths. These include requiring background checks on all gun sales and prohibiting firearm possession for high-risk individuals. These policies are supported by the vast majority of Americans.
Yet the NRA fights with all its might against any policy that could even minimally depress gun sales. Weaponizing the vast sums of money it receives from the gun industry, the NRA takes aim at any politician who dares to break ranks. Too few do. In fact, there is movement in the opposite direction.
As bullets rained down on concertgoers in Las Vegas, Congress was on the verge of passing legislation to legalize the use of silencers. That would make it easier for the next mass murderer to escape detection a little longer. In my home state of Wisconsin, the Republican-led Legislature is considering a bill to allow nearly everyone to carry concealed weapons, sometimes even on school grounds, with no training or permit required.
Without doubt, we can effectively prevent gun violence in ways that respect our hunting heritage and a robust gun culture. To do so, we must show our strength in numbers. That starts by demanding that our elected officials buck the NRA — stop regurgitating their falsely patriotic slogans, stop supporting their life-endangering policies, and stop taking their blood-soaked money.
When that happens, we will be able to write a new script for addressing gun violence, one that puts people’s lives before gun-industry profits.
Jeri Bonavia is executive director of WAVE Educational Fund, a Wisconsin-based group devoted to preventing gun violence. She wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 30 W. Mifflin St., suite 703, Madison, Wis. 53703; email: email@example.com; Web site: www.progressive.org. For information on PMP’s funding, please visit http://www.progressive.org/pmpabout.html#anchorsupport.