Now is the time to debate gun control

FLINT – They hadn’t yet caught the person who murdered nine people in their own church in Charleston, South Carolina, and gun defenders were already telling the TV cameras, “Now is not the time to debate gun control.”

So when is the time? After his trial? After the next full moon? After the next slaughter? Or the one after that? Or the one after that?

The truth is it’s never the right time in this country to talk about guns or racism or the mentally ill, or why a toxic stew of all three so often leads to mayhem.

And that’s why nothing changes. Ever. Not after two disenfranchised high school punks murder their classmates. Not after a nut shoots up a midnight movie, killing 12. Not even after 20 children and six staff are slaughtered in their classrooms.

Nothing, no matter how horrific, moves us off the dime, which makes us cowards, fools or both.

It’s infuriating. And I frankly don’t understand it. Why do we accept this? Because the NRA says we have to? That’s crazy. If a medicine were killing thousands per year, we’d do the sensible thing and take it off the market or restrict it. We wouldn’t let the pharmaceutical industry tell us “Dangerous medicines don’t kill people. People who swallow dangerous medicines kill people.”

We’d scoff at that. Because it’s ludicrous. And if, after another round of deaths, someone said, “It’s not the right time to talk about taking dangerous medicines off the market or regulating the industry,” we’d get angry and say, “What do you mean it’s not the right time? People are dying, which makes it the perfect time!”

Look, we don’t yet know all the facts about the Charleston massacre. One report said the suspect’s father bought him a .45-caliber gun for his 21st birthday in April. (And if he did, why shouldn’t he face murder charges?) Another says he bought the gun on his own with his birthday money.

But does it matter? The point is he easily got a gun. Like every other mass murderer of the past quarter century, getting the tool itself was apparently simple as pie.

Why? Why can’t we have strong background checks that might have prevented a character like Dylann Roof – a known race-hater who was out of jail on bond awaiting trial on felony drug possession charges – from legally getting his hands on a gun?

The answer is we could. It’s our country, no matter what the NRA thinks. Instead we’re much more likely to once again meekly nod our heads in agreement when the gun lobby says, “What’s the difference, he’d just go get one of the streets.”

True, but that’s like saying we shouldn’t license drivers or tell factories they can’t send anything they want up a smokestack. Because, gee, they’re just going to do it anyway, so why bother?

The point of strong gun regulation is to – follow the logic here – make it harder to get a gun, which makes it harder to kill people with a gun.

That’s all you can do. We’ll never eliminate murder. As the gun nuts like to say, “Murderers will just use hammers or knifes.”

Yup, they will. But again, that kind of asinine logic doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to prevent some of the carnage wrought by our obscene lust for guns in this country. (As President Obama noted, no other country has the gun massacre problem we have. We’re No. 1. Yay, us.)

In fact, it’s our responsibility to do so.

And if we don’t – if we keep putting off the conversation we know we need to have until a “right time” that never seems to come – doesn’t that mean some of the blood is on our hands the next time this happens?

EDITOR’S NOTE – Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. Write to Andrew Heller at andrewhellercolumn@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook.