Will the shooting deaths of 17 students at a Florida high school ever result in changes in American gun policy?
That was the question I was asked by a KFOG radio host in late February. I responded I was glad she said “ever” in her question, because no, I didn’t think anything would change in the near future; but eternity is a very long time, so who knows?
Was I too pessimistic?
You all know the facts. The horrific Parkland, Fla., killings is just the latest mass shooting in this country in recent years. Though many people became activists in the wake of the slaughter of grade-school students at Newtown, Conn., it did not change the national legal situation. Following the Parkland killings, Hillary Clinton wrote on Twitter that since the Newtown shooting, “438 people have been shot and 138 killed in over 230 school shootings. That’s 5 school shootings every month, 16 of which classify as ‘mass shootings.’”
This has resulted in nothing being done to control guns on a national level. On a local and state level, on the other hand, much has been done, and San Francisco (and District 2) are at the forefront of such efforts.
When Mayor Mark Farrell was District 2 supervisor, he pushed through bills to tighten loopholes and increase data collection by police on gun sales. In January 2017, then-Supervisor Farrell noted the closing of the city’s last gun store and said, “We should be unapologetic about prioritizing the public safety of our residents first. If the last remaining gun store chooses to shut down as a result of my legislation, so be it — I would much rather see a preschool, coffee shop, or other neighborhood-serving business that contributes to the vitality of our city in its place.”
Farrell’s successor as the Marina’s supervisor is Catherine Stefani, a gun control advocate who as one of her first pieces of legislation introduced a bill to restrict weapons at large public gatherings in the city.
California also has statewide gun restrictions; in late February, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to the state’s 10-day waiting period for purchases of firearms.
So California and San Francisco in particular should be gun-free utopias, right? Well, of course not. Unless we convince Mexico to pay to build a wall around the state, guns will continue to be purchased elsewhere with laxer standards and cross the border into the Golden State.
That’s the Chicago tragedy. That city has some of the toughest gun control measures in the country, but Indiana is just a short drive away, and the Hoosiers have very light regulation. A 2014 report by the Chicago Police Department noted, “Between 2009 and 2013, almost 60 percent of guns used to commit crimes in Chicago were first purchased outside of Illinois.” Nearly 20 percent of the illegal guns on Chicago’s streets came from Indiana.
So a national policy is required if anything serious is going to be done to rein in the country’s rampant gun violence. In a democracy, that should be pretty easy to bring about. After all, fantastically large majorities of Americans — of both political parties — support what are called common-sense gun reforms, such as expanded background checks.
None of those have been enacted in Washington. Despite Americans telling pollsters that they support these gun restrictions, they don’t vote on it. A majority of Republicans support these restrictions, but it’s not a deciding factor in their voting behavior, so pro-gun legislators continue to listen to the National Rifle Association, even as the NRA issues increasingly unhinged statements. (Just recently, the leader of the NRA announced that the right to own weapons is granted to Americans not by the Constitution but by God.)
This is both a local story and a national story. There is nothing more local than when you or someone you know has been shot. Nothing. It is a life-changing or life-ending experience, and it is far too often experienced in this country. In other countries — and, it must be noted, in every other country — it is experienced less often. (When you learn that the country with the second-highest level of gun ownership in the world after the United States is civil war-torn Yemen, it should worry you.)
I’ll be honest. I don’t know if the Parkland slaughter has fundamentally changed American attitudes toward weapons of mass killing in private hands. But in the end, the most hellish calculus will come into effect as more and more people have to deal with the moral horror of their children or spouse or pastor or aunt or U.S. representative killed or grievously injured by a gunman.
We know there are NRA members who read the Marina Times. And you often are characterized unfairly in this city. People treat you as if you agree with the fringe statements of Wayne La Pierre and other NRA functionaries. But you are just as sickened by the killings of young people — and all people — as are the 225 million Americans who are not NRA members.
So you can help fix this.
You can contact your NRA officers. You can run for internal positions within the NRA. You can at the very least e-mail your NRA officers to let them know you want them to oppose policies that let crazy people get their hands on weapons of mass killing. And you can contact Republican members of Congress and let them know that on this issue, the NRA is not speaking for you.