It’s Up To American Gun Owners To Reduce Gun Violence

Most gun owners support expanded background checks. Why aren't they speaking up?
People take part in a candlelight vigil for victims of the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon on Oct. 3, 2015.
People take part in a candlelight vigil for victims of the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon on Oct. 3, 2015.

Another incomprehensible mass shooting, another news cycle dominated by calls for new gun restrictions -- demands that Congress will once again ignore. 

Such is the Groundhog Day nature of our national gun debate, in which everyone plays their assigned roll: Gun control proponents remind us that the U.S. is number one, by a mile, in the number of gun deaths and mass shootings among developed countries. The most fervent gun rights advocates blame society -- television, movies, video games and broken mental health systems -- and say that mass shootings are evidence that more guns are needed in more places.

And, once again, most gun owners remain silent. 

Ninety percent of Americans, including most gun owners, say they support closing background check loopholes. Half of all gun owners say they support a ban on certain types of assault weapons.

 The National Rifle Association, which applies enormous pressure on lawmakers to tow the no-gun-restrictions line, isn't listening. 

The NRA purports to act in the interest of mainstream gun owners, but its priorities reflect the priorities of its most hardcore members, who are deeply distrustful of the federal government and won’t back any restrictions that they see as impeding their ability to fight back against it if necessary.

They survey the carnage and argue that we will be safer if there are more armed people in more places -- an assertion that is directly contradicted both by the available evidence about restrictions in the U.S. and by every war that was ever fought. (By this logic, Iraq and Syria would be among the safest places on the planet.)

These core supporters view any gun control legislation as the first step toward tyranny.

Never mind that no nationally elected politician is advocating to take away the guns of law-abiding people.

Never mind that 10,000 Americans are shot and killed each year, compared to the few hundred instances in which a gun was successfully used in self defense

But donations from the true believers -- and support from gun makers -- have helped make the NRA into the wealthy, potent political force that it is today. The NRA pumps twice as much money into lobbying nationally elected officials as its rivals, which include a group led by former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords. 

These people are not going to have a change of heart. Nor, in partisan America, do lawmakers in conservative districts feel much pressure from gun control advocates, who are largely based in large northeastern cities. 

But there are also millions of responsible gun owners who recognize that they are in possession of fearsome weapons, and would like to make it as difficult as possible for criminals or the mentally ill to get those same firearms. There are huge numbers of ordinary, law-abiding people who own firearms and also think a future where everyone, including their children, must carry a gun with them at all times sounds like a dystopian horror film that they don't want to see.

Until these people start speaking with their votes, and with their dollars, nothing will change.