After the June 12 Orlando mass shooting in which more than 100 people were killed or injured, President Obama took to a podium to offer his condolences and to denounce gun violence. His frustration was palpable. By some reckoning, he’s given a similar speech more than a dozen times.
“Somehow, this has become routine,” he said after one of the mass shootings. “The reporting has become routine. My response here, from this podium, has become routine.” In its follow-up to the Orlando shooting, the New York Times reported that gun homicides exceeded 8,000 in 2014. No other advanced country comes close. In Germany, you’re more likely to be hit by a falling object.
What explains our fascination with guns? Theories vary, but my guess is that its a combination of factors that range from our frontier experience to a misplaced belief that somehow guns keep us free and safe. The gun lobby has exploited the “free and safe” meme, even though the facts clearly prove otherwise.
The gun lobby has the added advantage of hiding behind the Constitution’s 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. Never mind that the amendment was a badly written effort to protect militias that were helpful in the War for Independence. Nowadays, with court backing, the amendment gives a theoretical legal basis for the slaughter of innocents.
Studies at Harvard and elsewhere draw the simple — I would say obvious — conclusion that having more guns means having more homicides. In 2013, the American Public Health Association reported a “robust correlation between levels of gun ownership and homicide rates. “Although we could not determine causation, we found that states with higher rates of gun ownership had disproportionately large numbers of deaths from firearm-related homicides.”
The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gives Florida an “F” for its weak gun laws. There is, for example, no effort to regulate assault weapons or even the number of firearms that may be purchased at one time. We are all familiar with the “Stand Your Ground” law that somehow justified the killing of the unarmed Trayvon Martin. Trayvon was a young black man, and of course we are reminded that African Americans are often most victimized by gun violence.
Why am I writing this now?
St. Stephen’s was among churches in Coconut Grove and throughout Florida who recently were asked to support the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. The Coalition’s initial focus is to ban assault weapons and expand background checks.
I’m very pleased to say that, in its August meeting, St. Stephen’s Vestry voted to support the Coalition. Much of our effort will be devoted to simply raising awareness of the scale of gun violence in our state as well as our conviction that gun violence must be stopped.
You’ll find more information from a variety of public sources, including the League of Women Voters, the driving force behind the Coalition’s formation. I encourage you to support our efforts in the public forum — and particularly at the ballot box.
Rector, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church