After another mass murder, America takes aim at itself

The mass murder that took place in Las Vegas still doesn’t make sense. And while the violence would be easier to categorize if the 64-year-old shooter, Stephen Paddock, had a history of mental illness or extremist views or a grudge, it still wouldn’t make sense.

Neither does the way we debate controlling such weaponry, or the way we debate every issue we face. We’ve forgotten that well-intentioned people can disagree.

We used to argue our politics at the dinner table and laugh together in the den afterward. Now we avoid touchy subjects, erupt in fury or avoid dissenters.

It’s in this climate that we’re seeking a safer nation.

Paddock purchased dozens of guns, accessories to make some of them act like fully automatic weapons, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. He planned his attack meticulously. The 58 people who died, not counting Paddock, and more than 500 injured made his crime the largest mass shooting in the modern history of our nation. The previous record stood for barely a year. We fear huge attacks that come regularly, yet we can’t talk constructively about changes that might prevent mass killing. Nor can we talk constructively about the day-to-day gun fatalities in the nation, of which there are more than 30,000 each year.

NRA budges on bump stocks

On one side, gun advocates say any regulation infringes on their rights and argue that restrictions won’t work. They argue that many people would still be killed by guns no matter what we did, as if cutting fatalities by 10,000 a year, or even 1,000 a year, would be meaningless.

Now, worried that the nation is truly furious after Las Vegas, the National Rifle Association says bump stocks like the one Paddock used to make his semiautomatic weapons imitate machine-guns “should be subject to additional regulations,” whatever that means. But in the same statement, the NRA renewed its push for a law that would allow anyone who can carry concealed weapons in states where such permits are available to all gun owners, like Nevada, to carry them in every state, including New York.

On the other side of the argument, the fiercest activists often tout changes few want, like repealing the Second Amendment. These positions feed the argument that allowing one restriction or regulation is, in fact, the slippery slope to repealing the Second Amendment, and they incite the NRA to cry, “They are coming for your guns!”

Polls document and everyday conversations validate that regardless of political party, most people support mandatory childproof gunlocks to cut down on accidental shootings by children. They support mandatory wait times on gun purchases so some of the 22,000 gun suicides a year might not happen. They support keeping mentally ill people from buying weapons, and requiring background checks for all who want to buy guns and ammunition.

Mass murders are a symptom

We have devolved into tribes on guns and abortion, and patriotism and dissent, and seemingly every big issue. We give allegiance to leaders whose professed views and goals might be more extreme than our own, but whose camps we recognize as the ones where we are emotionally comfortable. We’ve become more adept at seeing people as enemies to hate than at finding ways to see them as allies to work with. The mass murders we cannot stop are a symptom. The fact that we cannot even reason together to try is the disease.