We Need a Serious Gun Control Conversation

Can we have a conversation about guns now?

We've had two mass shootings in the space of less than two months. Eighteen people are dead, scores more are injured, and those are just the shootings that made it to the front page. Those aren't average days in America, but they might as well be. On any given day, 85 people die from gun violence. Another 182 are injured.

Do we get used to it? Do we become numb and resign ourselves to the fact that this is the new normal? As hard as I try to resist, I'm no longer surprised when a news alert starts with a body count and the words "many more injured." That's a tough reality to face, and not one we should accept in America.

Tougher still is listening to politicians from both sides of the aisle tell us that their "hearts go out" to the families of shooting victims, and that they're "in our prayers." Because prayers don't bring back the innocent people in Colorado, or the Sikhs who gathered together to worship and build community, or the scores of police officers and other innocent bystanders lost to gun violence. Our hearts and our prayers don't prevent the tragedies that took them from us, so they don't matter.

What matters is that we've let this happen. We've let our very American love of rights and liberties create a society that's far more dangerous than it should be. We're ignoring the practical reality that guns are causing our society harm, and instead we're giving powerful weapons to the sick and the hateful. I don't think that's what the founders had in mind.

For those of us who believe in gun control, we're told that it's antithetical to the founding principles of our country. That the lives of the 31,347 people killed by firearms in 2009 are somehow less valuable than the right to walk around with automatic weapons. That the only way to protect the Second Amendment is to let the mentally unstable and the violent purchase weapons whose only purpose is to kill others. Because that's their right. And your right. And my right. End of story.

But that's not the end of the story, is it? It's not the society we want to live in, and ignores the fact that our founders gave us a principle far more important than anything in the Bill of Rights. In fact, it's more than a principle. They handed us a mandate to maintain and extend our self-governed society. Of the people, by the people, for the people. That doesn't always mean majority rules -- in fact, rights are often developed and protected by a vocal minority.

In this case, the vocal minority is holding the rest of us hostage. They've scared us into submission. Politicians are afraid to speak out for gun control, worried about the wrath of powerful lobbying groups representing gun owners. Even the mildest restrictions on things like assault weapons, "cop killer" ammunition, and high-capacity magazines are met with vehement resistance in our state houses and Congress.

I don't have answers, but I'm tired of our public debate around guns to be so defeatedly deferential to gun owners. We need to open up the floor and hear from everyone, not just the powerful lobbying groups whose job it is to keep the guns firing. So speak up, gun control advocates. We need you.