Nevins is co-publisher of The Fulcrum, as well as co-founder and board chairman of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund.
Nelson is a retired American attorney and jurist who served as an associate justice of the Montana Supreme Court from 1993 through 2012, having been appointed to the court by then Republican Governor Marc Racicot.
Lewiston, Maine: 18 killed, 13 injured in a rampage by a guy with an assault rifle. The shooter: a certified firearms instructor and a member of the U.S. Army Reserves. The community locked down until he’s found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Press conferences; school classes canceled; politicians falling all over each other with their thoughts and prayers--and, choreographed for the evening news, bloviating frustration and rage (at least through that news cycle).
Soon the memorials and funerals; sermons about senseless murder and the deceased being in a better place; and CNN doing spots about the victims. Grieving family members being interviewed: “And, how are you feeling, Mrs. Jones?” Really?!
So, what’s new? Sadly, not a damn thing. Just another day in paradise.
Revolted by this latest massacre, a friend called us and said: “Do you know we’ve killed more people by gun violence in the last two years in America, than civilians killed by Russia in Ukraine.”
That was hard to believe, so we promised to do some research. He was right.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights verified that as of September 12, 2023, a total of 9,614 civilians have died during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with 17,535 people injured.
But, It turns out the Russians are pikers when it comes to killing civilians. Gun Violence Archive is an independent data collection and research group unaffiliated with any advocacy organization and collected data on incidents from over 7,500 law enforcement departments, media, government and commercial sources in an effort to provide data about the results of gun violence.
According to their research, as of October 26, 2023, there have been 35,291 gun violence deaths in America year to date. Add to that the 20,200 gun violence deaths in 2022, and we have a total of 55,491 American civilians killed—about 5.8 times more than the number of civilians killed, in the same period in Ukraine, who is at war with a superpower, Russia.
In 2020 and 2021, firearms contributed to the deaths of more children ages 1-17 years in the U.S. than any other type of injury or illness. The child firearm mortality rate has doubled in the U.S. from a recent low of 1.8 deaths per 100,000 in 2013 to 3.7 in 2021.
With statistics like this, reasonable gun legislation should not be a partisan issue. Yet it is and for some reason despite the carnage support for assault weapon ban legislation is actually dropping .
How can this be?
Certainly, the Supreme Court ruling that has chosen to ignore the plain language of the 2nd Amendment in favor of broadly protecting personal gun ownership is a factor. However, at the same time the Court has left room for reasonable gun regulation as enacted in The Bipartisan Safer Communities act of 2022 that ended a nearly 30-year stalemate on any federal legislation. This legislation includes $750 million to help states implement so-called “red flag” laws to remove firearms from peoples deemed to be a danger to themselves and others. Additionally the law provided funding for mental health, and enhanced background checks for gun buyers under the age of 21.
Yet no significant weapons ban of any type has passed or is currently under serious consideration.
A major factor in the lack of progress, of course, relates to the extensive power and reach of the NRA. The NRA was formed in 1871 to promote marksmanship skills and sports shooting, but in the 1970’s a faction of the organization forced it away from sports and into opposing “gun control.” Awash in money, the NRA has one of the three most powerful lobbies in Washington. In the 2000s, after the assault weapons ban expired, the organization became involved in promoting the sale of assault rifle-type weapons and in 2016 spent more than $30 million on behalf of the Trump campaign, according to Federal Election Commission data .
The strength of the NRA does not lie solely in its cash contributions, to members of presidential candidates or Congress to thwart any gun control. The NRA's strength also relies on its staunch supporters who will, at the drop of a gun-control bill, write letters to their senators and congressmen threatening them with their vote if they pass even the most moderate gun legislation. Many of these people are single issue voters, and politicians whose concern is more about getting elected than doing what should be done are rightly scared of them. Add to this the power of the gun manufacturing lobby and one can easily see why no matter how many mass killings in America nothing ever changes.
However, it is not just the NRA. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a business grade organization representing 10,000 gunmakers, dealers and other firearms firms zealously and single mindedly exerts enormous power.
Despite these powerful forces, 61% of Americans believe it is too easy to obtain a gun and 58% favor stricter gun laws and thus it is imperative that Congress act. Unfortunately, history proves that with the current makeup of Congress it is unlikely that meaningful gun legislation will be enacted.
And so once again we mourn and we weep and pray for action. If only our elected leaders would do what is right, instead of what is politically and financially expedient, these unnecessary tragedies could become less frequent.
But instead we have governors saying, as Maine’s governor recently did, “it’s time to heal and move on.” And instead of action we hear the old refrain as expressed by Mike Johnson the new speaker of the House that guns don’t kill people, hearts do.
These are words easy to say, but for the grieving families and victims, these words are hollow as they chart a nearly impossible journey.
In the end, it is up to Congress and up to us. If we do not elect leaders willing to enact reasonable, protective gun legislation then, sadly it is just going to be another day in paradise, someplace else, all over again.