Every choice we make has a benefit and a cost, and every day we decide if the benefits outweigh the costs or not in connection with our choices. This is also the case with our culture’s decision to allow cheap and easy access to guns and ammunition of all sorts. However, as we have seen in one heartbreaking episode after another, there is a terrible price to pay for that decision. The mass murders at the elementary school in Connecticut are only the latest result of that choice. The 26 Newtown murders — 20 of them children — join a long line of other indescribably horrible mass murders that have taken place at Aurora, Colo., Virginia Tech, the shopping mall in Oregon (a week ago), Columbine High School and the Nuwood factory in Goshen.
One might say that, as sad as these terrible events are, they are simply the “price of freedom” and that all the innocents slain are “collateral damage” that has to be accepted so we can continue to enjoy all the guns we want. Arguments like these are a sign of an irrational addiction. It is past time to declare that the societal cost of cheap and easily accessible guns is more than any sane people can bear and is no longer acceptable.
Here are a few ideas about how to curb this insanity and make better choices:
1. Alcohol and tobacco are recognized as clear threats to health. They are taxed to discourage their consumption; guns and ammunition are also clear threats to health and should also be taxed at a very high rate to discourage ownership of more than a very few guns and bullets per person. That would be completely adequate for personal self-protection and it would gradually reduce the ocean of guns now available. And if bullets cost $100 each, fewer of them would be fired by anybody.
2. Semi-automatic weapons and multiple bullet ammunition clips must be outlawed. This would reduce the horrifying ease with which mass murders are committed. Neither hunting nor self defense requires such weapons. When the 2nd amendment to the Constitution was written guns were muzzle loaded, which required time to reload after each shot so mass murder wasn’t possible by a single individual. The guns protected by the 2nd amendment were only distant cousins of the killing machines we have now. There was a ban on these items until it expired in 2004 — it needs to be renewed and strengthened.
3. Purchasing guns at gun shows needs to come under the same laws for background checks that apply elsewhere.
When a person has an addiction we often put up with it until they start to harm themselves or others. The time to confront our addiction to cheap and easily accessible guns is now. The costs of that addiction are completely intolerable.
— Skip Barnett of Goshen is an associate professor and international student adviser at Goshen College.