Two fantasies propel the debate over gun control. The first, which has long been the mantra of gun-rights advocates, is that the best way to prevent mass shootings and stop criminals is for more people to carry guns. The theory being that we need more armed "good guys" to intervene when the bad guys start shooting. This hasn't worked yet, certainly not in the case of the recurrent plague of mass shootings. And most Americans aren't comfortable with the idea of everyone walking around with guns in Walgreens.
The other fantasy, which we hear from gun-control advocates after each mass shooting, is that we can immediately fix the problem by banning the sale of high-capacity magazines and "assault rifles," such as the AR-15. This is similar to the fantasy promulgated by the Republicans a few years back that we could fix the immigration problem by deporting 12 million undocumented immigrants.
There are at least 3 million privately owned AR-15s, the civilian version of the military's M-16, in the U.S. And since the Newtown shooting, they are flying off the shelves of gun retailers, as gun-lovers anticipate they will soon be banned. There are an additional 300 million guns in private hands in the U.S. Banning AR-15 sales and beginning a buy-back program may help in the long run, but those guns will be with us for some time.
Guns kill more than 30,000 people in the U.S. every year; 10,000 of those deaths are homicides. Two categories of gun homicides get the headlines: The first is criminal activity — people using guns to kill in the course of robbing, dealing drugs, drive-by shootings, and fighting cops — as happened in the incident in Memphis last week that took the life of Officer Martoiya Lang.
The second category is mass shootings, where someone starts killing people with no apparent goal other than to kill. We've had an increasing number of these in recent years. They are horrific and appalling, because so many innocent people die in such a random, unexpected fashion. By necessity, these shooters almost always use high-round-capacity, rapid-fire guns. By any measure, they are mentally ill.
Surely, even the staunchest gun-rights advocate would agree that we need to do our utmost to keep guns from violent criminals and the mentally ill. From that point of agreement, action needs to be taken. The public is sick of this plague on the land. It's time to let go of the fantasies and get real about guns, crime, and mental health issues.