Wednesday night was the first of three Presidential debates. I was intending for this installment to focus on the performances of each of the candidates, their relative strengths and weaknesses, and so on. In watching last nights proceedings, however, I couldn’t help but notice with not a small measure of disappointment that throughout the ninety minute debate, which took place on the campus of the University of Denver, less than 15 miles from both Aurora, Colorado and Columbine High School, neither candidate felt it necessary to speak about the shootings or about gun control. Not even once. Now, I will grant that the subjects they did talk about were important, without a doubt. There wouldn’t be much point in having gun control if the United States economy ceased to exist. It was Barack Obama, however, who said during the debate “The role of the government is to keep people safe.” Mitt Romney echoed this sentiment during his response, pointing to the words of the constitution, emblazoned on the wall behind them. If it is indeed the government’s duty, its purpose, in fact, to protect its people, then the fact that neither candidate could muster the courage to say a word about the shootings in Colorado, much less what they intend to do about them, represents political cowardice of the highest order.
Before we begin a conversation on gun control, we should be very clear about two things that often prevent a substantive debate on the issue. First, it is possible to be pro-gun and pro-gun control. Secondly, when the vast and overwhelming majority of people talk about gun control, they are not talking about banning all guns for everyone. It’s important to note that there are, in fact, two sides to this argument. There is a logical case that can be made to support the idea that restricting gun access and gun use will have the unintended consequence of increasing gun violence. “Criminals will get these guns anyway,” some people say. “If that’s the case, wouldn’t you rather have one too?” Liberals and most Democrats would undoubtedly not buy that argument; the idea that “the solution to gun violence is more guns” is basically the same as saying “the solution to obesity is more McDonald’s.” Nevertheless, even this debate would be a welcome one, though liberals and conservatives find themselves at odds. In any case it would certainly be preferable to the status quo of total absence from the national conversation.
No reasonable person could look at the statistics on gun violence and seriously say that Americans are not faced with a crisis. Solutions to the problem will inevitably differ. Some people will advocate for tighter gun restrictions, some people will argue that we need to change people’s attitudes towards guns and violence in general. In the end it doesn’t really matter what the solution is, as long as America’s leaders spend the time to find a solution that can work. It should be self evident that we have a problem in this country and the failure of our leaders to acknowledge the issue is deadly. The fact of the matter is that someone is killed by a firearm every 20 minutes, on our streets, in our movie theaters, in our schools and in our houses of worship and neither of the two frontrunners campaigning for the highest office in the land, ten miles from the sites of two of the deadliest massacres in American history, has the moral courage, much less the basic courtesy, to even acknowledge the problem.