From now until at least the midterm elections in November, we’ll be featuring essays from powerful cultural voices alongside one simple thing, chosen by the author, that you can do to take action against the paralyzing apoplexy of the daily news. Maybe it’ll be an organization that deserves your donation; maybe it’ll be an issue that deserves greater awareness. Whatever it is, our aim is to remind you, and ourselves, of the big and small things we can do to work toward justice and change.
The Idea of Reasonable Debate
by Owen King
I commit to take action because the gun-control debate has finally turned the corner and most Americans now clearly support stricter regulations.
The attack at Columbine High School took place almost twenty years ago. The Washington Post recently reported that, in the years since, “210,000 students have experienced gun violence at school.” This is a horrific statistic. But it barely scratches the surface of the way guns have disfigured our American life.
Everytown For Gun Safety tells us that, on average, ninety-six Americans are killed by a gun every day. I’m truly sorry, but I have to ask you to do something appalling: I have to ask you to imagine a gymnasium filled with ninety-six people. Now imagine them being ripped apart by gunfire, every man and woman and child. Now imagine watching that happen—and then, tomorrow, walking through a doorway to the next gymnasium holding ninety-six people who are to be massacred. Day after day after day. This is the grotesque status quo the NRA would like us to accept as a fair price for the freedom to arm ourselves against the threat of a tyrannical government.
My daughter, who is eight and wore her favorite pants with bunny appliqués to school this morning, participates in regular safety drills that train her to hide silently in a corner of her classroom with her friends. This is her share of the NRA’s price.
And if you believe that the connection I’m making between the NRA and all gun deaths is unfair or hyperbolic, then why is there such a disparity between our country’s rate of gun deaths and the rate found in other developed countries? There are 3.61 per 100,000 in the United States versus, for instance, .16 in Australia and .04 in the United Kingdom. The difference is obvious. The difference is the NRA and the lax gun laws it promotes.
There are so many problems in American life: vast economic inequality, systemic racism, the environmental collapse of our rivers and coasts, our antiquated political system, our inconsistent foreign policy, and more. They are all pressing issues and they are all complex. Gun control is also pressing but, by comparison, it is straightforward. We need universal background checks. We need a federal prohibition against military-style rifles. We need limits on magazine sizes. These are sensible regulations and, again, that’s why most Americans support them, including 72 percent of Republicans.
I cannot help feeling that the gun crisis is at the core of everything that ails our country. It defiles our national life. It makes the idea of reasonable debate seem absurd, because what population of reasonable people would consent to live this way, perpetually under fire? If we can deal with this one issue first—if Americans can elect representatives who will pass the gun-control laws that the majority of us want passed—then perhaps all the other deliberations we must undertake can begin in earnest.
Take action today:
Support Everytown for Gun Safety.
Owen King is a writer based in New York and the co-author, most recently, of Sleeping Beauties.