America has two gun cultures: Don't blame law-abiding gun owners for murders

When a mass murder happens in our country, like so many Americans I wring my hands and look for answers – for anything that will stop these monsters. I don’t like to speak out at these times, because as Ecclesiastes correctly tells us there is “a time to every purpose under the heaven,” including “a time to mourn.”

But then someone kicks me in the shin.

This time it was CNN media reporter Brian Stelter, saying on CNN’s “New Day” program Wednesday that the National Rifle Association and gun owners don’t want to tell the truth about guns.

No, the truth that is many in the media refuse to cover the truth about guns and the gun cultures in America. They don’t want to admit there are two wildly different gun cultures in our country. One is the freedom-loving, gun-rights culture that upholds the responsible use of guns for hunting, sport and self-defense. The other is the criminal culture that thrives in the places where government restricts gun rights.

Not acknowledging that the two cultures exist separately, and instead pretending legal gun owners are responsible for crimes committed by the illegal gun culture in America, isn’t just a lie. It is getting good people killed.

In the most recent mass murder last week at a Florida high school, where 14 students and three adults were killed, the FBI failed in its responsibility – not guns or gun owners. That was hardly an anomaly. In many other cases a murderer should have been denied legal access to guns, but the bureaucracy failed us.

In other cases, from Columbine High School in Colorado to the Pulse nightclub in Florida, law enforcement opted not to charge in to stop the carnage. They had their own safety in mind, but nevertheless this tells a person who carries concealed that they can’t depend on law enforcement during such a scenario.

And no matter how good a job law enforcement agencies do, police cannot be everywhere at all times when criminals may decide to begin murdering innocents. Because of this, disarming responsible and law-abiding gun owners to take away their ability to defend themselves and others is dangerous, and can result in greater loss of lives.

Meanwhile, the big lie being pushed in the media is that guns and the freedom enjoyed by America’s more than 100 million law-abiding gun owners are somehow to blame for murders. That narrative alienates gun owners and misdirects resources away from solving real problems.

America’s gun owners aren’t the problem. They are allies in the fight to stop criminals who use guns.

Blaming guns also isn’t rational. First of all because guns don’t commit crimes all by themselves, but also because rifles of all types are used in less than 3 percent of murders each year in the U.S., according to FBI uniform crime reports.

Semiautomatic firearms aren’t even new – they are a late 19th century invention. The AR-15 (called an “assault weapon” in the media, though that is a meaningless political moniker) was first sold to U.S. citizens in 1963, the same year the U.S. Army began buying M16s from Colt.

Semiautomatic firearms – pistols, rifles and shotguns – are the most popular sold today for hunting, self-defense and target shooting. As the 1994 law banning assault weapons showed, there is no real way to even define what constitutes an “assault weapon,” other than by deciding to ban whatever looks scariest to some lawmakers.

So how do we stop more murderers?

First, by working with America’s many gun owners. Blaming freedom for the actions of criminals is just nonsensical. It also misdirects resources and, if that ideology gets its way, simply reduces the freedom of the law-abiding citizenry – not the criminals who by definition will break the law.

When we stop blaming legal gun owners and guns for murders we’ll be left, by the process of elimination, with those who are really to blame: criminals, some of whom are mentally ill.

We’ll also have to acknowledge that good citizens are being harmed because they aren’t allowed to carry arms for their own defense in some areas of this otherwise free country.

Such a change, which actually has been taking place, causes the big, responsible gun culture in America – the one that bought the millions of legal guns over the last decade as violent crime rates fell – to invade the areas where the illegal gun culture dominates, because laws prevent good citizens from utilizing their rights.

This would also allow us to stop wasting energy in this endless loop of blame. We do need to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The National Shooting Sports Foundation and the NRA are for this; in fact, there is bill right now working its way through Congress designed to do this.

Other things also need to be done, such as firing whoever didn’t pass the tip about the accused Florida killer being dangerous to the FBI’s Miami field office. Changes must be made to be sure agencies tasked with protecting us act more competently.

Of course we’ll never stop all murderers, whether they are committed by terrorists, bank robbers or the mentally ill. But it would help if we could channel our attention and resources toward criminals and the mentally ill who are a danger to themselves or others – not the good citizens who live across this great nation.