THE BLOG
11/03/2013 06:28 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

When Guns Do Kill People

America's love affair with guns has now reached a zenith (or a nadir, depending on how you look at it), wherein no amount of carnage seems to be able to change our basic fondness for owning guns. Even the recent shooting at the Washington Navy Yards, which claimed 13 victims and left 8 others injured, and now the execution of a TSA agent in Los Angeles, are destined to become just more entries in the timeline of gun violence in America and fade in the national memory over time. Gun control, for sure, is going nowhere fast - if at all.

What we need, then, is to examine our attitude about guns as a society, and to come to a rational, practical understanding of how guns actually create violence rather than just being the convenient instruments of it. I am referring here to the mistaken precept that "guns don't kill people, people kill people." It sounds reasonable, except when you ask the following question: do guns give people the confidence to go through with an act that they might otherwise not be able to do, and in doing so, become part of the crime?

The following examples provide an answer.

The first is the massacre in Aurora, Colorado, in which shooter James Holmes killed 12 people and injured 59 others during a late night screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Holmes is clearly mentally ill, but he is not stupid. If he had simply wanted to kill another human being, he could have easily knifed someone on the street at night, strangled a friend in his home, and even perhaps gotten away with it, but that is not what he wanted. He wanted to kill a large number of people in a short period of time and to make a loud statement (either to himself or to the world). That could not be achieved with knives, telephone wires, or baseball bats; that required a gun.

In other words, a gun in Holmes' hand was not just another weapon but the very thing that enabled him to become a mass murderer that night, making the gun an inseparable part of and a true accessory to the crime. This point is not academic but very real, and applies equally to Newtown and now the Washington Navy Yards.

The other example is slightly different, but equally telling, and that is the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. While the legal, media, and public debate about the case hinged around questions of racism and self-defense laws, a bigger question here is whether Zimmerman would have gotten out of his car in the first place had he not been carrying a gun? Regardless of whether Martin attacked Zimmerman first or whether this was a cold-blooded murder, the tragic events of that night would likely never have occurred if Zimmerman had not been armed.

The reason I say this is because Zimmerman himself admitted that he was intimidated by the taller black man who he was convinced was a gangster. Given that, he would hardly have opted to confront Martin at night time with no one else around without a gun to give him the guts to do so. At the very least, he would certainly not have dared to get close enough to Martin for a physical struggle to ensue even if he had gotten out of his car and followed him.

It happened because Zimmerman had a gun and knew that he had the upper hand. The gun in his hand gave him the confidence to pursue a course of action that he would have otherwise deemed too risky. Unlike Holmes, Zimmerman is not mentally ill. Whether he killed Martin deliberately or by accident is impossible to know, but it is a safe bet that Zimmerman would not have 'stood his ground' without a gun, and that is the pivot on which that fateful night turned.

The right to bear arms is a part of our Constitution and America's affinity for guns will not diminish. However, that does not preclude us from finding a balancing point that protects the rights of gun owners while protecting our citizens against the prospect of gun violence. Our current gun laws are well meaning but clearly inadequate to address the problem. In the Navy Yards shooting, for example, the system of background checks that we currently have failed to spot several red flags in the background of the shooter, and enabled him to secure a gun. At the very least, those types of failures can, and should be prevented.

But to even reach the point of being able to strengthen those laws, Americans themselves need to question their extreme attitudes about guns, and their refusal to recognize the extent to which guns actually produce mayhem. The finger on the trigger might belong to a person, but when the weapon itself is fused with the gunman's psychosis or encourages deadly bravado - as in the above examples, it is complicit in the crime itself.

Or to put it more directly: sometimes guns do kill people.

SANJAY SANGHOEE is a political and business commentator and has written extensively about gun control. He has worked at leading banks and has appeared on CNBC's 'Closing Bell', Arise TV, and HuffPost Live. He is also the author of two thriller novels, including "Killing Wall Street". For more information, please visit www.sanghoee.com