A Sad, New Normal

Here we are again.

Here we are again. We all know the drill by now. We all know pretty much what the eyewitnesses will say, what the talking heads on the television will say, and what the politicians will say. None of it ever seems to change, and none of it seems to change anything going forward, either. We go through the cycle of “mass gun attack” and hear the same words over again. We go through the cycle of grief which will then fade, right up to the time when it happens anew all over again. This is, sadly, the new normal for America.

The gun control advocates will fight for change, but even when this change is (rarely) achieved, any new law will likely have a “grandfather clause” contained within it which allows anyone owning any weapon up to a certain date to continue to legally possess it. It’s a little-known fact, but owning a fully-automatic Thompson submachine gun is still perfectly legal in this country. There are hoops to jump through to buy one, but they are usually not insurmountable. It will cost you a lot of money to buy a Tommy gun, because they are rare and historic. But there’s no outright law banning you from buying one. Or any fully-automatic weapon made before the mid-1980s. And if you don’t have the money or the time to deal with the red tape, you can just purchase a brand-new semiautomatic rifle and then buy a separate kit to transform it into a fully-automatic weapon (legal kits must also have been manufactured before the mid-1980s, but illegal kits are also available for a fraction of the price of a legal one).

I say all this because from the first (audio) reports, it seems the shooter in Las Vegas was using a fully-automatic weapon or weapons. And fully-automatic weapons are the most tightly regulated weapons around. But all the regulations didn’t prevent him from what he did. Any law passed with a grandfather clause or other loopholes (like the conversion kits) means it is guaranteed not to be effective, in the end.

Profiling or other screening also didn’t work in this case, at least from the little we now know about the shooter. He was far outside the age range that most law enforcement would even consider for a mass shooter, and he doesn’t appear to have a recent history of mental illness (again, initial reports are always sketchy, so this could change). He may have just been a high-stakes gambler who hit a big losing streak ― we just don’t know, at this point.

Because he’s a white guy, he will be dismissed as a “lone wolf” or even “mentally ill.” Nobody will suggest that we look at all mid-60s white guys harder, or that country music somehow “caused” this shooting. There are some things that change with each individual massacre, in other words, depending on how the media and politicians decide to pigeonhole the perpetrator. But none of that really changes the debate much, or the lack of any real outcome.

Short of repealing the Second Amendment and attempting to confiscate all guns, nothing much is ever going to change. And I doubt there’s an American politician alive who would even advocate taking such radical steps. The gun lobby constantly fearmongers that some politicians “want to take away your guns,” but I sure have never heard anyone espouse such views ― not even the most pro-gun-control Democrat around. The only laws that have ever changed this (that I am aware of) are new ones to prevent someone convicted of a violent crime or domestic violence from continuing to own guns. The justice system used to not link the two unless the person was in prison or on parole, but new laws (at least, in California) mean that the cops proactively confiscate weapons from dangerous felons. But other than that limited application, nobody’s guns are in danger of being “taken away” any time soon, because there simply is not the political will to do so, from either the politicians or from a large portion of the public.

Expanding background checks, on the other hand, does have enormous public support ― above 90 percent of the public approves of mandating universal background checks. This includes almost 100 percent of Democrats, but it also includes 90-plus percent of both independents and Republicans. And yet, even with this overwhelming support, the National Rifle Association has been successful at blocking any attempts to legislate universal background checks. In fact, the only thing Republicans have been doing is making it easier to buy guns ― even for people who have been legally declared incompetent to manage their own affairs. Congress is currently considering making suppressors (“silencers”) legal and making state-issued concealed-carry permits valid nationwide, rather than considering new gun control laws.

Which is why it feels futile even writing about the issue. There’s not much to say, because I don’t see much of any of this changing any time soon. Any new law which contains grandfather clauses or loopholes will wind up being ineffectual. No background check system will prevent every person from buying a gun that it should, because if you aren’t “in the system” as officially being declared mentally unbalanced then the background check won’t work. Meaning if somebody just snaps one day and decides to shoot up a crowd, they’ll likely be able to legally buy the equipment to do so.

I refuse to engage in speculation about the Las Vegas shooter, because it is so early and so few facts are known. But no matter what we learn about him over the next few days, the outcome will be the same ― no action by anyone that could actually prevent such a thing from happening in the future. We have all made a tradeoff in this country: the Second Amendment (and how it is applied in the modern world) is so important to us that the price we all have to pay is enduring these mass shootings, with increasing frequency. Until that changes, welcome (sadly) to the new normal.

Chris Weigant blogs at ChrisWeigant.com.

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant