With the steam now settled from Wednesday’s attack in Alexandria, the explanations are starting to roll in. Unsurprisingly, the consensus has nothing to do with the fact that the U.S. is home to more privately owned guns per capita than any country in the world.
Rather, the culprit—so the story goes—is a toxic political atmosphere, bolstered by the revelation that the attacker, James Hodgkinson, was a fervid opponent of President Trump. The New York Times, hardly a fringe commentator like Newt Gingrich or Donald Trump, Jr., features two pieces on the topic this morning: one posits that the attack poses an “unexpected test” for the left-wing, while another places the attack in the context of “rage and blame.”
Let’s back up for a moment. While we do not know all of the details behind Hodgkinson’s attack, we do know that every year in the U.S., around 30,000 people are killed by guns. Many more are wounded. This was a fact before Donald Trump was president. Absent any action, it will persist once he is gone. When Gabby Giffords was shot in 2011—a relatively utopian time in American politics—the Congressional approval rating was the same is it is now, 20 percent.
If Wednesday’s attack proved anything, it’s that the debate surrounding gun violence will always settle around something other than the weapon itself. After Sandy Hook and Aurora, we were told the problem was mental health, not guns. Then it was violent video games. Now we’re told it’s about too many people having strong feelings about politics. But as we keep re-diagnosing the problem, the most predictable thing in American life continues to occur: we lead the developed world in people being gunned down.
Emptying dozens of rounds of bullets on elected representatives is not a normal or inherent extension of anything about our politics. Bernie Sanders has never said a word that can be construed to incite even a shove. Even President Trump’s rhetoric—which constantly incited violence, most notably when he said “Second Amendment people” could do something about Hillary Clinton—cannot fairly be attributed to an assault on this scale.
The culprit, as it has always been and will always be, is the ability of bad people to easily access the means to do bad things. France has toxic politics. Britain has video games. Italy has people suffering mental health issues. None has anything remotely comparable to the accessibility of firearms in the U.S., nor the level of gun violence.
But who am I kidding? We’ll lend our thoughts and prayers, members of Congress will reach across the aisle, invite each other to lunch and project to the world that we aren’t all that divided, and any substantive conversation surrounding the “gun” in gun violence will quickly be silenced.
Meanwhile, people will die. Tens of thousands, in fact.