Guns Are the Problem, Not the Answer

Virginia Tech (32), Sandy Hook (27), Robb Elementary (21), Stoneman Douglass (17), University of Texas (15), Columbine (13), Santa Fe HS (10)

Guns occupy an almost reverential place in the lives of many Americans. Every gun owner remembers the thrill they felt the first time they shot a gun, and fondly remembers the first gun they ever got.

Because of the singular place guns occupy in our country, we tend to exaggerate the importance of the Second Amendment. What other clause of the Constitution do you hear mentioned so frequently? Hardly anyone even knows what’s in the original eight articles of the Constitution, much less reveres them. The only other amendment that gets any public attention, the First—which protects freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly—does not begin to provoke the fervor aroused by the Second.

The Second Amendment comes closest to defining the myth of what it means to be an American—fierce self-reliance combined with deep skepticism of government authority—in a way that no other provision of the constitution does.

Behind this myth, however, is a less savory reality. According to American Gun Facts, there are more than 460 million guns in civilian hands in this country, about 1.4 guns for every man, woman and child. No other country even comes close to having the number of guns we have, either as a total number or as a per capita share. Why do we own so many guns? Fear.

Americans now experience fear on a scale that we haven’t seen since the darkest days of the Cold War, when U.S. schoolchildren regularly practiced hiding beneath their desks in preparation for a nuclear attack. At that time, the country was gripped by national hysteria that the Soviet Union would preemptively rain nukes upon us. Sadly, fear is once again the order of the day, and children are again being trained in how to respond in the event of an attack.

Unlike our fear of the Soviets in the 1950s, though, the object of our fear today is homegrown: fellow U.S. citizens with unnamed grievances and semi-automatic weapons. And unlike the exaggerated fear of a Soviet nuclear attack, today’s fear that a stranger will shoot us is all too real.

Tree of Life Congregation (11), First Baptist Church (26), Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (9), Sutherland Springs Church (26)

More and more, our fears are proving prescient. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there were 645 mass shootings in 2022, which are defined as shooting events when at least four people are shot, not including the shooter. That amounts to almost two mass shootings every day. That same year we lost more than 20,000 Americans to gun violence. To put that into perspective, we lost approximately 58,000 American soldiers in Vietnam. We now lose more Americans to gun violence every three years, in peacetime, than the total number of soldiers we lost during 20 years of war in Vietnam. As happened in the 1860s, we are once again at war with ourselves. Although the combatants in our current war are not organized into armies, the guns they use are no less real, and the people they shoot are no less dead.

The constant drumbeat of shootings in this country makes everyone fearful. That fear translates into increased gun sales for the presumed protection that guns provide. But here’s the rub: the more guns there are available, the more likely it is that a gun will be used to resolve a perceived problem. Another driver cut you off? Make your displeasure known with a gun. Got fired for no reason? A gun can rectify that injustice. Angry that you are just one more anonymous and disposable person barely scraping by?

How many people like that have already pursued large-scale revenge with an AR-15? How many more will do so tomorrow, next week, or next year? The drumbeat of killings will continue so long as our homes are filled with guns, because there will always be people angry enough, foolish enough or demented enough to pull the trigger when they shouldn’t. The upshot of widely available guns is shootings on a scale that was once inconceivable but is now a tragic reality.


Flags at half-mast outside Union Station in Washington, D.C., a day after a gunman entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and killed 19 children and 2 teachers, on May 25, 2022. Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM 

Las Vegas, Nevada (60), Orlando Nightclub (49), El Paso Walmart (23), San Ysidro McDonald’s (22), Fort Hood (14), San Bernardino (14), Aurora Theater (12)

For any real progress to be made toward reducing gun deaths, there needs to be a fundamental shift in how Americans think about guns. We need to begin by unlearning the fiction— successfully promoted by the NRA—that gun ownership equals freedom and safety. The only freedom guns provide is the freedom to kill each other, and that is a freedom we could do without.

In terms of safety, pervasive gun ownership has made us vastly less safe rather than more. Pressure must be brought to bear on the mostly Republican politicians who, until now, have collectively acted as a bulwark to protect and expand gun rights. Whether by resisting common sense gun legislation or by placing gun friendly justices on the Supreme Court, the Republican Party has single-handedly made sure that American streets are saturated with guns. If these politicians cannot be convinced to change their position on guns, they need to be voted out of office and replaced by politicians who recognize the danger posed by guns.

Then there is the problem of the Supreme Court, a majority of whom believe that the appropriate reference point for dealing with guns today is Colonial America circa 1791, the year the Second Amendment was enacted.

It’s worth recalling that a woman in Colonial America could not vote and had essentially no legal rights separate from her husband. A Black person, of course, had no rights whatsoever, including the right to life. If a person today voluntarily chose to live as people did in 1791 America, they’d promptly be sent off for a mental health evaluation.

The guns of choice in 1791 were the flintlock musket and the flintlock pistol, both of which shot one round at a time and could be reloaded and fired about three times in a minute. A modern AR-15, by contrast, can fire 45 times in a minute, with bullets that travel faster, go further, and hit their target more accurately.

Yet when the Supreme Court, in its dubious wisdom, tells us that 1791 America is the proper yardstick for determining how we should approach guns today, we respond with a collective shrug. The six “justices” who signed their names to the Bruen decision should be impeached for malfeasance.

Cleveland, Texas (5), Dadeville, Alabama (4), Louisville, Kentucky (6), Nashville, Tennessee (7), Monterey Park, California (12), Enoch, Utah (8)

Second Amendment absolutists accept the regular eruption of gun violence as the price we must pay for our right to own and carry guns. Such a right is just plain wrong. It’s time we raise our collective voice and say enough: enough bloodshed, enough death, enough trauma and fear and violence.

Too many people have died too soon; too many others are walking around with the physical and emotional scars of a close encounter with a gun. When the NRA and their Republican toadies tell us that owning a gun is the best way to protect ourselves, they’re lying. Guns are the problem, not the answer. Each of us has a right to be free from gun violence. That is a conception of freedom we can all get behind, and one we must all work toward.

Your child, your spouse, your parent, your sibling, your friend. You.

Steven Goldman is the founding partner of Goldman & Associates, a law firm focused on criminal defense and §1983 litigation, specifically false arrest and police brutality.