“This needs to stop.”
This desperate public plea came from a relative of Joe Schelstraete, the Uber driver from Hobart who was shot and killed in Cicero during a carjacking attack recently. The 38-year-old father of three was at the wrong place at the wrong time, police said.
Our fearful, angry country is at the wrong place, wrong time in regard to gun violence. And it’s not going to stop despite tearful public pleading from victims’ families as they grieve their murdered loved ones. How many times have we heard the empty phrases, “senseless tragedy” or “these killings have to end” or “sending thoughts and prayers?”
Too many times. And nothing changes. Our reactions are as hollow as those phrases.
On one recent weekend, our firearm-friendly nation was again riddled with gun violence in several cities, including Indianapolis, Salt Lake City, New Orleans, and of course Chicago, where at least five people will never again be able to read about the pandemic that actually killed them.
Roughly 8,500 people have been killed by gun violence in the U.S. this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Will this figure reflect the critical mass that’s finally needed to properly address this problem in America the Ballistic? Obviously not.
Gun sales are sharply rising, with first-time gun owners playing a significant role, according to FBI background checks data. If you think typical gun owners are the conservative good old boys in rural areas, you should reconsider your prejudices. Women and minorities also are behind the dramatic spike, blamed on the loss of trust in police, social unrest in our society and primal fear in our mind.
“One is to be forgiven if one is persuaded by news media and others that the nation is awash with murderous AR-15 assault rifles. The facts, however, do not support this hyperbole, and facts matter,” wrote U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez, of San Diego, who recently overturned California’s longtime ban on assault weapons.
His controversial ruling prompted celebrations with gun rights advocates and Second Amendment loyalists, most notably when the judge compared AR-15 rifles to a Swiss Army knife.
“Like the Swiss Army knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment,” Benitez wrote in his 94-page ruling. “Firearms deemed as ‘assault weapons’ are fairly ordinary, popular, modern rifles.”
So true. So sad.
He labeled California’s three-decade-old ban a “failed experiment” that violates American’s constitutional right to bear arms, and deprives his state’s citizens of weapons that are commonly allowed in most other states, and by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Under no level of heightened scrutiny can the law survive,” said Benitez, who issued a permanent injunction so the law cannot be enforced.
He issued this injunction Friday, on National Gun Violence Awareness Day. I kid you not. Critics immediately condemned his ruling, blaming assault weapons, by any definition, for literally countless numbers of homicides and mass shootings. I can’t recall the latest mass killing attack with a Swiss Army knife. Maybe I missed it.
If you’re a lawful gun owner who thinks I’m against gun ownership in our country, you should reconsider your prejudices against liberal journalists. As I’ve written before in this column space, I gained a new respect and appreciation for gun owners after firing an AR-556 assault-style rifle at an indoor gun range.
The experience didn’t convert me to gun idolatry, as many readers had presumed.
“Our nation was built on God and guns, though I want nothing to do with either,” I wrote in one column. “Going to church confirmed the former. Going to a shooting range confirmed the latter.”
Prevention efforts against gun violence feel like empty prayers to me at times. The imagery that comes to my mind? Frantically hauling a leaky garden hose to a raging bonfire. Still, I don’t mean to douse the efforts of organizations such as the Prevention Institute.
“Part of our healing must be the conviction that we will do everything in our power to keep these tragedies from happening in a nation that continues to face a pandemic of gun violence,” its website states. “It’s not only the high-profile mass shootings that we must work to prevent, but also the daily death-by-guns that claims more than 30,000 lives every year.”
The organization’s summary of recommendations include sensible gun laws, a culture of gun safety, holding the gun industry accountable, and reduced firearm access to individuals who are at risk of harming themselves or others. Too late for that last one.
Guns are as accessible as reasons to use them. And despite public pleas from victims’ families, the reality of gun violence feels as cold as a morgue: this isn’t going to stop.
Jerry Davich is a columnist for the Post-Tribune of Merrillville. Send comments to [email protected].