We Cannot Stop Gun Violence With Prayers, Or More Guns

Law enforcement personnel stood near a police line at The Grand Theatre following a deadly shooting in Lafayette, La., on Thursday. (Paul Kieu/The Daily Advertiser)

Law enforcement personnel stood near a police line at The Grand Theatre following a deadly shooting in Lafayette, La., on Thursday. (Paul Kieu/The Daily Advertiser)

This past Thursday, in the movie theater my family and I usually go to see movies at, a man opened fire during a showing of the movie “Trainwreck.” Three people, including the shooter, were killed and four people remain in local hospitals. The community is still in shock, and it will be a long time before things return to normal here in Lafayette, Louisiana.

As soon as the news broke, many people began to utter the same old line about guns and prayer. Almost every remark about our nation’s horrific epidemic of gun violence was shouted down by fanatics who clucked that it was inappropriate to insert politics into the tragedy, while gun extremists Ted Nugent and Allen West showed up on Saturday to make sure they got their press time blaming the individual instead of guns before making a scheduled appearance at an outdoor show in town. Even our often-absent governor Bobby Jindal said that this wasn’t the time to talk about gun violence and said that we should all pray instead.

Jindal spoke of the desperation we feel “when there’s no real good reason why this evil should intrude on the lives of families just out for a night of entertainment.” He is a master of gallows humor. Because between the idea and reality, the motion and act, falls the shadow of systemic inaction. As if these killers acted without tools, and as if people like Bobby Jindal do not labor to make those tools both widely available and unaccountable, ghosts within the system just as instantaneously as their victims become. Bobby Jindal has already decided that nothing else can be done — indeed, that God himself divinely ordained an inerrant amended parchment to forbid anything else to be done. So what we can do now is pray. (Source)

Last night, not far from where I attended the Bernie Sanders rally in New Orleans, a gunman stepped out of a vehicle and opened fire with an assault rifle in a park full of kids – at least four people were wounded, one critically. Apparently all of the praying and guns in Louisiana didn’t help then, or on Thursday in Lafayette, or in Charleston last month.

Every time we witness yet another horrific incident of gun violence, we’re told once again that now is the time to pray and buy more guns instead of talking about what we as a country should do to deal with this epidemic. It’s always the same answer: more guns and more religion. If those two things were the cure for the problems we face, Louisiana should be the safest place in America, but it isn’t.

The gunman in the Lafayette shooting had an extensive history of mental illness and bizarre behavior that should have had him confined to a mental hospital. Instead, he was able to purchase a cheap .40 caliber Hi-Point in an Alabama pawn shop back in February 2014, a weapon he would use to fire 20 rounds inside of a dark theater last Thursday. John Russell Houser should never have been able to get his hands on a weapon, but he did anyhow. Even if the pawn shop in Alabama had refused to sell him the handgun, he could have gone to any number of gun shows where private sellers will sell a wide range of firearms to individuals in cash transactions, no paperwork and no questions asked. I know this as a fact since the Savage .243 bolt-action coyote rifle I own was purchased in one of these very transactions at a gun show, right here in Lafayette.

Obviously, I have nothing in my past that would prevent me from passing a background check, something I had to do recently when purchasing a Smith and Wesson handgun from a sporting goods store. But if I was a person like Houser who was angry at the world and determined to take it out on innocent movie patrons, I could very well purchase a weapon with cash through a private seller at a gun show, or even through a Facebook gun group.

You can pray until you’re blue in the face and buy guns until you’re broke, but neither of these actions will stop our ongoing problem with gun violence. We have to address the problem that it is too easy for a disturbed person to purchase a weapon, along with the fact that much of our gun violence is rooted in the social safety net which has been absolutely gutted by years of conservative policies. Individuals like Houser who would have been committed to a mental institution for years instead of weeks a few decades ago now roam the streets and sit with handguns in movie theaters, thanks in part to Ronald Reagan. Gun fanatics like to say that we have a mental health problem and not a gun problem, but they’re completely unwilling to fund the hospitals many of these shooters should have been in.

Then again, if America can respond to 20 elementary school students being gunned down in their classrooms in Sandy Hook with little more than calls for additional prayer and guns, we’re too morally bankrupt and bound by gun lobby propaganda to do anything the next time it happens.


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