In the wake of two more mass shootings, many of us are asking the same anguished questions.

Is it possible that we learned nothing from the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre, which killed 20 5- and 6-year olds?

Why didn’t the government do anything to protect children from this uniquely American nightmare? How could we let this happen again?

It’s the right reaction, but these are the wrong questions.

It’s not true that we didn’t “do anything”: By choosing not to modernize firearm regulations, Congress accepted the gun lobby’s answer to these tragedies. The only response to gun violence that is acceptable to groups like the National Rifle Association is more guns. And that’s exactly what our government has done.

Over the last decade, federal policy has allowed the number of guns in this country to explode. Annual sales have gone from 19.6 million in 2012 to 39.6 million in 2020. Domestic gun manufacturing has nearly tripled since 2000, going from 3.9 million guns a year to 11.3 million.


There are an estimated 400 million civilian-owned guns in America, maybe twice as many as there were on the morning that the Sandy Hook parents dropped their children off at school for the last time.

Congress and state legislators have conducted a massive natural experiment to test the hypothesis that guns protect us from danger. What have we learned?

Simply put, they were wrong. If guns made us safer, we would be safer. But we are not.

We lead the world in gun ownership, but we lead high-income countries in gun murders and suicides.

Mental illness is a problem everywhere. So are substance use disorder and the illegal drug trade that supplies it. Extremist groups spread racist lies wherever they can.

But if you are looking for American exceptionalism, it’s our love of guns.


Every moment of despair has the potential to end in suicide when a person has access to a firearm. Every argument has the potential to end in death when one or more of the participants has a gun. A toddler in Wells was shot to death last weekend when her 19-year-old uncle brought a gun into a dispute with his brother over a T-shirt.

We don’t have more crime than our economic peer nations, but the crimes here are much more likely to end in death.

When it comes to “active shooter” mass murders, like this week’s killings of 19 fourth-graders and two teachers in Ulvade, Texas, or the racist massacre in Buffalo, where a self-radicalized young man targeted African Americans, killing 10, the United States has a near monopoly.

These events make up a small percentage of the total number of gun deaths, but they terrorize millions who have to think twice about shopping for groceries, going to church or dropping their kids off at school. This simply is not a problem anywhere else.

Some will argue that the United States is different because our Constitution expressly protects the right to keep and bear arms from government interference. But the same sentence says the use of weapons should be “well regulated.” You cannot look at multiple murders of schoolchildren and believe that anything about this is “well regulated.”

As we start to see the school pictures of the children who were killed in Uvalde, we should remember that doing nothing after Sandy Hook was a choice.


We could have made it impossible for a teenager to buy a semiautomatic military-style rifle. We could have stopped him from getting high-capacity magazines, body armor (like the Buffalo shooter) or hundreds of rounds of ammunition without raising any questions from authorities.

We could have required a waiting period for gun sales. We could have toughened up the background check system, aligning the mental health prohibition with the reality of today’s health care system.

We could do that now, in the wake of two sickening mass shootings in less than a month.

We could also choose to put more guns in more hands of people who shouldn’t have them, which we know that’s what will happen if we do nothing. That should not be our choice.

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