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New House Rules after Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton

Supe Steve Lavagnino Asks, ‘What Would You Do?’ While Playing Russian Roulette at Walmart

Teresa Figueroa holds up her light at a vigil held outside of Casa de la Raza for the victims of the most recent mass shootings | Credit: Nancy Rodriguez

Turns out I’ve been playing Russian roulette all this time without knowing it. Without even spinning the cylinder once. 

New house rules. 

Gilroy. El Paso. Dayton. 

Thirty-four dead, not counting the angry young white guys pulling the triggers. Sixty-six wounded. Not one of them, I bet, woke up that last day thinking, “Today’s a good day to become a statistic.” For right now, the numbers got big enough to drown out the white noise of dead people dropping.

Here’s another number: more than 350 million guns in the United States, about eight million of which fall loosely into the category of AR-15-type semiautomatic weapon. They spray death. Americans constitute about 4 percent of the world’s population and own about 40 percent of the world’s guns. The math is pretty obvious. If only a tiny sliver of less than one percent were to get into unstable hands, big problems ensue. Clearly, we are well past that tipping point. We can no longer round up the usual suspects yet again: violent video games, people with mental illnesses, and even Donald Trump.

The encouraging news? There are cracks in the system. Even Republicans are waking up. Senators like Lindsey Graham are starting to champion “red flag” measures, like the ones authored in California by Santa Barbara’s own Das Williams and Hannah-Beth Jackson in the wake of Elliot Rodger’s bloody rampage in Isla Vista a few years ago. One of those measures empowers friends and families to petition the courts to remove guns from the hands of people who might not be safe. Although solid numbers for Santa Barbara County are not yet available, the gun-violence restraining-order program clearly works. Earlier this year, a potentially suicidal young dude—as disaffected as he was brilliant—was legally separated from a small arsenal of scary-looking guns, thousands of rounds of ammo, and body armor. What reason, authorities wondered, is there to bury a weapon in your backyard? 

The gun lobby is pushing back in the courts against a new bill California passed to require background checks on people buying more than 100 rounds of ammo at a time. Attorney General Xavier Becerra claims more than 100 people with sketchy criminal pasts were stopped making purchases; the gun lobby claims tens of thousands of untainted transactions were unfairly slowed down. 

California has one of the lower rates of gun deaths, too. Not perfect—but it’s a step in the right direction. 

I get it, but I don’t. To get on a plane, you must endure the time-consuming aggravation of getting screened for explosive devices in your shampoo bottles by people often beleaguered and impatient. To drive a car, you must wear seat belts. To drive a motor vehicle on a state road you must have insurance. To get a driver’s license, you must pass a competency test. Guns, we are told, must be afforded special privileges. Last time I checked, the right to traverse the nation’s roads is every bit as constitutionally sacrosanct as the right to bear arms.

I get it, but I don’t.

Back in 1934, FDR and Congress managed to pass legislation that effectively banned the machine gun, then the equivalent of semiautomatic weapons, by taxing it and regulating it into the oblivion of extreme inconvenience. The National Rifle Association (NRA) supported this. And it worked. When was the last time you heard of a drive-by Tommy gun shooting? 

In America, we accept mass shootings as an occupational hazard that comes with being alive. But other places aren’t so fatalistically submissive. In Australia, for example, when 35 people were killed during a mass shooing in 1996, the government swiftly enacted a raft of tough gun control laws, banned automatic and semiautomatic weapons outright, and launched an aggressive gun buy-back program. About 600,000 weapons were bought and destroyed in the process. It was all massively unpopular at the time, but 10 years later, Australia reported a 59 percent drop in gun-related homicides and gun-related suicides.

Maybe something will happen this time. 

In the wake of El Paso and Dayton, the screechingly conservative New York Post ran a front-page editorial headlined “It’s Time to … BAN WEAPONS OF WAR,” accompanied by a photo of an AR-15. The Post and Fox News are both owned by Rupert Murdoch. In an open letter to Trump ​— ​the Post wrote, “Gun control works.” When the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, it noted, the “well-regulated militia” envisioned by the Second Amendment was armed with muskets. With those, you could get off three rounds in a minute if you were skilled. Today, you can squeeze off 750-900 in 60 seconds. 

Maybe something will happen this time. 

The NRA, long regarded for good reason as political omnipotent, is imploding as longtime president Wayne LaPierre fights off financial scandal charges. LaPierre apparently spent $275,000 on clothes at the Zegna men’s boutique in Beverly Hills and another $267,000 on personal travel, perhaps with his personal mistress. 

Maybe something will happen this time. 

In the meantime, County Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, a level-headed North County Republican until he renounced any party affiliation last year, posted a Facebook status about feeling “a little freaked out” while shopping at Walmart this weekend. What if he noticed a guy dressed in fatigues carrying a rifle into the store, he wondered, while he himself was packing heat? If he doesn’t shoot the guy right then and there, he worried, innocent people could get killed. But what if the guy was just a hunter bringing in his rifle for repair? “I decided what I would do,” Lavagnino signed off, “but what would you do?”

I know what we’re doing now. Playing Russian roulette.

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