When did the American gun become untouchable?

April 21, 2023 5:40 am

(Aristide Economopoulos for New Jersey Monitor)

In January 2020, a standing-room-only crowd gathered in Anderson County Fiscal Court to debate our becoming a Second Amendment Sanctuary. The comment I most recall from that morning was made by the brother of a man who had died by suicide with a firearm. He argued on the side of guns. His brother, he said, would have found a way, with or without easy access to guns.

Three years later, I remain stunned by this man’s statement. When did it become normal for us to throw up our hands, to value guns above all else, including the safety of our own troubled family members?

A few days after the Louisville bank mass shooting, WKYT’s Bill Bryant sat down with Republican gubernatorial candidate Kelly Craft. He asked, “Would you say red flag laws would be a nonstarter in Kentucky?” 

Craft pounced. “I am not going to touch the Second Amendment,” she said. “That is part of our constitutional rights, and I’m not going to touch that. But what I am going to be focusing on is making certain that our law enforcement also has all the necessary resources because they, too, have been affected by what they have seen. And you and I both know if our law enforcement were there within three minutes, our medics, I mean how many lives were they able to save and prevent from further tragedy. And our citizens, I don’t know if you read that, where they were there helping.”

Imagine the absurdity of hearing this same statement in response to the opioid and fentanyl crisis: It’s a free country, so I am not going to touch that (drugs). I am focusing on giving law enforcement more tools (Narcan) and resources (therapy). Medics and citizens can help, too.

In one of her first ads, Craft made the “empty chair” due to drug overdose a staple of her campaign. Why do gun deaths not warrant an equal “empty chair” campaign?

In 2021, 2,250 Kentuckians died from drug overdose, and according to Everytown for Gun Safety, Kentucky has the 14th highest rate of gun deaths in the U.S. with an average of 823 gun deaths per year, 61% of which are suicides. 

Craft and every Republican running for or holding office should have to explain the exponential difference in their focus on these crises.

In her statement, Craft also gave the standard Republican talking points about law enforcement, saying she wants to ensure they have all the necessary resources. What additional resources are there? Tanks? Armed guards on every street corner, like in a  war zone? 

Our police already carry weapons of war because they are met with citizens who (legally, with no waiting limit and no training required) own and carry weapons of war. This time, a newly sworn-in police officer was shot in the head with an AR-15. What new resource would have prevented this?

Police arrived at Old National Bank within three minutes. What if it had taken (an also reasonable) nine minutes? What if the gunman had continued through the building, shooting during those additional minutes instead of waiting, as was reported, to ambush police? Would it have changed Craft’s automated talking points, even a little, if there were 50 victims? A hundred?

On April 18, Louisville Metropolitan Police Department reported, ”Last week, 14 people died as a result of homicides in Louisville. Any homicide in our city is unacceptable, but 14 in one week is unconscionable and should cause all of us, as a community, to be outraged.”

The question is, why aren’t all of us — every last one of us, regardless of political party or where we live — outraged? Marching in the streets? Demanding legislative action that prioritizes people over guns? Laughing politicians out of interviews for every tired “Second Amendment” talking point?

When did the American gun become untouchable, as revered and worshiped as Jesus on the cross?

In May 2021, a good friend of mine was feeling low. She was in her late 50s, in the midst of a divorce she did not want, suffering from long COVID, and there, right there in the safe, was her loaded gun. The one she kept for her safety.

Could a law have prevented my friend’s suicide? Maybe not. But could a law have saved the life of the brother I heard spoken of in 2020? Yes, since it appeared his family knew he was struggling and a law might have given them the tool they needed to keep him safe. Could a law have saved the 14 lives lost in Louisville last week, or some of the firearm suicide deaths in Kentucky annually? Possibly.

Laws are not perfection; laws are safeguards.

For example, making it illegal to drink and drive does not keep all people from drinking and driving, and laws vary state to state. But when Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) “was founded at a kitchen table in 1980, 25,000 people died in these preventable crashes every year. Today, drunk driving kills about 10,000 people a year.” 

We are not asking for guarantees with new laws. We are asking for new tools to help save lives. 

Aren’t the “empty chairs” due to gun violence worth saving, too?

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Teri Carter
Teri Carter

Teri Carter writes about rural Kentucky life and politics for publications like the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Courier-Journal, The Daily Yonder and The Washington Post. You can find her at