It’s the guns, Editorial Board writes, so don’t let politicians distract us

Critical race theory (deaths: 0). Sex education (deaths: 0). Mask mandates (deaths: 0). School shootings (deaths: 24 kids in 2022).

It’s the guns.

It’s not mental health. It’s not illegal immigration. It’s not the breakdown of the family unit, the decline of organized religion, violent video games or movies or schools that present themselves as “soft targets.” Those conditions exist in nations rich and poor all over the world, and none of them suffer anywhere near the levels of carnage Americans see each week.

And it most certainly not a dearth of “good guys with guns” standing up to the bad guys. Pretending that adding more guns to the American streets will curb gun violence is like saying that the answer to drunk driving is more liquor stores.

The United States suffered through yet another school shooting — 119 of them since the massacre at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in 2018 — with Tuesday’s violent loss of 19 fourth-graders and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas.

Politicians across the nation, including Utah’s governor and congressional delegation, have responded with expressions of shock, sadness and horror. Utterly useless, if not insulting, expressions of shock, sadness and horror, as none of them are willing to face the truth about exactly what it is that is killing our children. Our worshipers. Our grocery shoppers. Our movie-goers. Our innocent bystanders in every walk of life.

It’s the guns.

Specifically the kind of guns that no sane or civilized society would allow on its streets. Guns that should be banned at the federal level or, at the very least, should require universal background checks and be limited to people at least 21 years of age (as Utah state Sen. Derek Kitchen proposed).

Guns that should always be on the radar of law enforcement, mental health practitioners and family members, who should be able to trigger the kind of “red flag” law that the Utah Legislature considered and foolishly rejected in 2018. And 2019. And 2020. A move that, like other gun safety legislation, Utahns overwhelming support.

What we are talking about here are not hunting rifles, sport shooting pistols or shotguns legitimately kept for defense of hearth and home. We’re talking about military-style weapons, the AR-15 and its knockoffs, which are not designed for hunting or self-defense, but conceived for the sole purpose of killing as many people as possible in as short a time as possible.

The impact of a round from an AR-15-style weapon does not just penetrate a human body. It causes it to explode from within, destroying organs and making its victims so unrecognizable that the parents of school shooting victims are asked for DNA samples to make identification of remains possible.

This is the weapon of choice for the individuals, often young men who are too young to legally buy alcohol yet are allowed to purchase weapons of war and a platoon’s worth of ammunition, no questions asked. A choice made possible by some perverted interpretation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States that holds that reasonable limits of the possession of deadly weapons somehow violate our fundamental rights.

But what about the fundamental rights of the rest of us, to safely walk the streets, to go to church or to the movies or to the store? What about our basic human right to expect that the children we send to school in the morning will still be alive come bedtime?

Frankly, our elected leaders don’t give a damn. Utah’s political class, dominated by Republicans ranging from relatively moderate to far right, have again reacted to a massacre of innocents with calls for improved mental health services (Rep. John Curtis and Gov. Spencer Cox), deflections to dysfunctional families (Sen. Mike Lee). At least Sen. Mitt Romney admitted that his offer of “prayer and condolence” was “grossly inadequate.”

It’s not that mental health isn’t an issue. It wasn’t wrong for Cox to refer families to the SAFEUT app, a way for young people to find resources when they are in distress or have reason to believe someone they know may be a danger to themselves or others.

It’s just that, by itself, concern about mental health isn’t nearly enough. If anything, knowing, as we do, that our mental health services are deficient and difficult to deliver even under the best of circumstances makes it all that much more crucial for us to reduce the number of firearms, particularly the kinds of weapons used in these horrific incidents, in our homes and on our streets.

“We must find answers,” Romney tweeted.

One answer might be for the outpouring of concerned parents who packed school board meetings and legislative hearings with their objections to critical race theory (deaths: 0), sex education (deaths: 0) and mask mandates (deaths: 0) to put as much energy into demands for sensible gun safety laws that will really protect the lives of the children they care for so much.