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Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Lesley Becker/Globe Staff;
November 13, 2018
By James Alan
Susan Orfanos, whose 27-year-old son Telemachus perished in last
Wednesday's mass shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks,
Calif., after having survived last year's Las Vegas massacre, had just four
words when asked her reaction to the latest act of carnage: "I want gun
An increasing vocal majority of Americans (if not a majority of
our elected officials in Washington) apparently agree with the grieving
mother. A recent Pew survey found strong public sentiment for tighter gun
restrictions, including two-thirds being in favor of banning assault weapons
and high-capacity magazines and nearly 90 percent supporting background
checks for gun shows and private transactions.
It has become routine
that any large-scale mass shootings will spark furious debate concerning the
role of guns and regulations governing their sale. The higher the body
count, the louder the calls for action.
Unfortunately, we only seem
to see traction at the margins. For example, on the anniversary of the Las
Vegas shooting spree, President Trump announced, "We're knocking out bump
stocks," referring to the seldomly used accessory that facilitated just this
one mass killing.
Ironically, mass killings generate the most support
for gun control but are the least impacted by such measures. Keeping guns
away from dangerous individuals is easier said than done. Most mass killers
are not on terrorism watch lists and do not have criminal records or a
history of psychiatric commitment; they are able to purchase their guns and
ammo legally. Even if denied, they can always beg, borrow, or steal the
weapons needed to perpetrate a bloodbath.
Mass killers do not just
snap and grab the closest gun they can find. Rather, these are typically
well-planned and deliberate executions. Full of rage or hate, most will find
a way no matter what roadblocks are placed in their path to destruction.
California, for example, has some of the strictest gun laws, yet many
massacres, including the latest, have occurred there.
It is of little
consolation to those impacted by the latest string of deadly attacks, but
there has not been an increase in the number of mass killings over the past
few decades, notwithstanding a few cases with particularly large body
counts. They remain only about 1 percent of all homicides annually. What has
increased, however, is the level of fear in part resulting from the
extensive media coverage that these tragedies receive.
mass killings are not a raging epidemic and are especially difficult to
prevent doesn't mean we should allow lawmakers to stall until the demand for
action quiets down. After all, the urgency for gun control is ever-present
in the nearly three dozen firearm homicides that occur daily in America, a
third of which are within families or among friends.
In the wake of
dreadful shootings, we often hear comparisons with Australia. In 1996,
following a massacre with 35 fatalities, the Australian government passed
sweeping gun law reforms, despite certain pockets of opposition. The
legislation prohibited private firearms sales, mandated that guns be
registered, and required purchasers to present a compelling reason for
needing a weapon. The country then went decades without a similar episode.
It is naive to expect the same kind of legislative response in the United
States, given the sacrosanct Second Amendment and the more than 300 million
guns already in circulation. Still, we must accomplish much more than just
eliminating bump stocks.
Let the Thousand Oaks mass killing add
impetus for tightening US gun laws. That's the right thing to do, whatever
the impact on mass shootings. Enacting sensible gun legislation would be a
fitting legacy for the victims of the senseless attacks at schools,
entertainment venues, and houses of worship. We owe this to Susan Orfanos
and others who have lost loved ones on our domestic battlefields.
James Alan Fox is a professor of criminology, law, and public policy at
Northeastern University and coauthor of "Extreme Killing: Understanding
Serial and Mass Murder."