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Scott Martelle, a Maine native, is a member of the Los Angeles Times editorial board.
As of about noon Monday on the West Coast, the nation had endured at least 355 separate shooting incidents over the previous 72 hours in which 123 people died and 297 were wounded. The sick thing is that’s not unusual.
I looked up the stats on the Gun Violence Archive as I contemplated the fourth mass shooting in Colorado in 2021, the most recent coming Sunday in Colorado Springs. A circle of family and friends had gathered to celebrate a birthday at a trailer in a mobile home park when, according to police, the boyfriend of one of the celebrants showed up with a gun and shot six adults — avoiding shooting children who were present — and then himself.
Again, the sick thing is, that wasn’t an unusual explosion of violence for the U.S. In fact, it was the 196th mass shooting — incidents in which at least four people other than the gunman are wounded or killed — since the start of the year, a pace of well more than one mass shooting a day.
The human tally so far in those incidents: 224 dead and 777 injured for a total of 1,001 people killed or maimed, or five victims per incident.
Late last week, the Biden administration announced that it would seek new regulations that would require background checks for people seeking to buy so-called ghost gun kits, a box of parts and a tool or two that anyone with a little mechanical skill can assemble into a working firearm. And it proposed changing regulations to require that the core element of those ghost guns — essentially the body to which the other parts are attached — will have to carry a serial number that law enforcement officials can trace.
Those are such simple and obvious steps that it should be a national embarrassment that it took this long to take them. But then, anything involving common sense and firearms seems to be beyond the reach of a government too beholden to Second Amendment hard-liners.
Still, no one should think that the proposed ghost gun regulations will affect the broader problem we have with gun violence.
The new rules would help, obviously, as did the Trump administration’s move to ban the bump stocks that turn semi-automatic firearms practically into machine guns. The Las Vegas gunman used such a device in October 2017 as he fired 1,000 rounds from a hotel window into the audience at a country music festival, killing 59 people (two more died later) and wounding more than 400.
But in reality, these steps just nibble around the edges of the problem.
The Swiss-based Small Arms Survey estimates that there are 393 million firearms in private hands in the U.S., or 120 guns for every 100 people. It’s notable that we really don’t know the true number, again a function of a government and a Congress controlled on this issue by the people who make, sell and buy the guns.
And Americans keep buying more. Since the beginning of the year the Federal Bureau of Investigation has conducted 16 million background checks, a loose proxy for numbers of firearms sold, with 524,000 here in California, one of the least gun-friendly states in the country.
By all means the Biden administration should continue pushing for stronger and smarter regulations of firearms, especially when it comes to weapons that are designed for combat and do not belong in the hands of civilians. And Congress should pass laws mandating background checks for any ownership transfer of a firearm.
But there is no cause for victory laps for such small advances. Too many people will continue to be shot or maimed because as a society, and as a body politic, we have not made ending this scourge a priority.
Yet, man, are we ready to face down a tyrannical government.