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The platitudes that follow a tragedy such as the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday are predictable, and, considering the escalating death tolls, depressingly so.
But as the nation again debates such matters as gun control laws and honing the mental health system to identify potential killers, we think it’s vital to acknowledge what the most commonly touted laws are likely to accomplish.
We support nationwide laws requiring background checks for gun purchases, and prohibiting people with documented mental health issues from buying guns, and outlawing gun stocks that allow semi-automatic rifles to be fired at rates similar to machine guns. The Las Vegas shooter used those devices.
The odds that such laws would prevent a mass shooting are impossible to calculate. But the ideas are constitutionally sound, and we would hope that most law-abiding gun owners — which is the vast majority — would accept a minor hassle at the gun store in exchange for potentially staving off even a single disaster, no matter how low the probability.
That said, we don’t think it enriches the national discourse to imply, as some pundits have done this week, that there is an easy legislative panacea to mass shootings, and that the only obstacles are heartless politicians beholden to the NRA.
Adam Gopnik, a staff writer for the New Yorker, wrote this week that “Gun control acts on gun violence the way antibiotics act on infections — imperfectly but with massive efficacy.”
This is a poor analogy, unless Gopnik defines “gun control” as government confiscation of guns.
The great flaw in his analogy is that antibiotics target the bacteria inside one person, where, in most cases, the medication is indeed quite effective because it is used with precision.
But in the case of guns there are something like 300 million in the U.S., and they’re not confined, as in the antibiotics analogy, to a single organism.
It’s not possible, then, for legislators to prescribe laws to deal with gun violence the same way a doctor prescribes medication to banish an infection. Such laws are not likely to yield, to borrow Gopnik’s term, “massive efficacy” in reducing firearm deaths.
We understand, and share, the frustration that people feel after yet another senseless slaughter. But the reality is that to significantly curb access to guns for the tiny fraction of people who use them to commit carnage requires not a simple piece of legislation, but rather a fundamental change to the Second Amendment. We can debate that. But we ought to at least be honest about defining the terms of that debate.
From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of publisher Kari Borgen, editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.