In the wake of the tragic shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo, Republican politicians in Montana are, like they have done so many times, joining the national chorus of their party refusing to discuss sensible gun laws.
As a result, we’re losing a freedom that’s so fundamental it doesn’t seem like freedom: the ability to shop, worship, and learn without fear of ending up on a battlefield. My generation never had the opportunity to attend school when our curriculum didn’t include the best practices for hiding from a gunman who seeks to kill us.
Many Republican politicians cast any attempt to discuss gun laws as “politizing” a tragedy. I reject that argument. Discussing how to prevent the slaughter of our fellow citizens isn’t political, it’s patriotic.
The most basic function of government is to defend its citizens from enemies both foreign and domestic. Gun violence is a domestic enemy. Gunfire killed 45,000 Americans in 2020 and Montana had the 11th highest rate of gun deaths. In our state, an 18-year-old can purchase the firearms used in the Uvalde and Buffalo shootings.
Those arguing that any gun law is a slippery slope are blind to the fact that we have already plunged down a tragic slippery slope. We now live in a world where the probability of a firefight in an elementary school classroom is so high that political leaders propose arming teachers as a legitimate policy solution.
The gun lobby has convinced many Republican lawmakers that their constituents being shot doing mundane tasks is an inevitable part of life for which there is no remedy and no need to act. It’s a view that would be admonished in any other scenario. More Americans are shot in a month than have died in a plane crash for the past several decades combined.
Yet, we spend billions of dollars on bolstering the aviation safety. Federal agencies enforce regulations on everything from the hours a pilot rests to the quality of materials in a plane. Why? Because we have a moral imperative to prevent the needless loss of life.
Republican politicians would argue that we can’t compare guns to air travel because the right to bear arms is enshrined in the Constitution. But what they fail to acknowledge when hiding behind the second amendment is that there have always been limitations on our rights. Our first amendment rights are limited: we can’t yell fire in a crowded movie theater, a newspaper can’t publish libel, and companies can’t falsely advertise.
We have also accepted limits on the second amendment: violent felons cannot purchase guns, fully automatic guns are illegal, and in Montana, we need a permit to carry a concealed firearm in the capitol building.
We can save lives of Montanans by enacting some basic laws such as:
– Codifing responsible gun ownership and hold irresponsible gun owners accountable.
– Requiring universal, comprehensive background checks.
– Increasing the age for purchasing semi-automatic firearms. (If 18-year-olds are too immature to purchase a beer, they shouldn’t able to purchase an AR-15).
– Passing an extreme risk protection order law.
– Banning high capacity magazines.
– Drastically increasing mental health funding and infrastructure.
The GOP claims that gun regulations pose unfair burdens for responsible gun owners. But a brief hassle is more than worthwhile if it saves the life of one Montanan. Inconvenience for the sake of public safety is the cost of living in civilized society. To board an airplane, we can’t bring a beverage through security, we put our belongings through an x-ray machine, and we let a stranger pat us down. All of this is to prevent the minuscule chance that there is a terrorist among us
Common-sense gun laws will slash the rate and effectiveness of suicides, reduce the deadliness of domestic violence, make our public spaces safer.
Sensible gun laws also slow the march toward a more militarized society. A march being led by Republican politicians. A nation that needs armed guards in body armor outside of every grocery store, church, school, and restaurant is a deeply troubled one. The shift toward a police state is a one-way street and, at the end of it, we are less free.
Jonathan Karlen is a Democratic candidate running to represent House District 96 in the Montana Legislature.