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Opinion | The cost of the American gun culture

There is a cost for our continued reverence for guns. The families of gun violence victims know it well.

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Just over a year ago, on a rainy day in April, I drove my mom to South Pittsburgh, Tennessee, to visit with the parents of my cousin, Kevin. 

The day before this trip, Kevin, who owned a popular coffee shop in South Pittsburgh, had confronted his business partner over missing money. They argued. As Kevin walked to his car in the parking lot, the business partner approached him from behind and shot him dead. 

So, for a few hours that day, I watched as my mom tried to comfort his mom. Mostly through stories and memories. She didn’t tell her it would be OK or that brighter times are coming. Because my mom knew better. Knew better than anyone, actually.

Just a few weeks earlier, my brother, Adam, who had struggled with mental health issues for some time, bought a gun at a pawn shop, drove to a wooded area near his home and ended his life. 

Things will never be OK for my family again. 

A year on from all of that, and there is still ever-present sadness and hollowness. A sense that something is constantly missing. That a piece that should be there no longer is and that its absence is both unnecessary and maddening. 

This is the cost of our gun culture. 

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It’s not the arbitrary, gray and white death totals or the mindless, careless bickering of politicians. It is perpetually heartbroken families that will never be whole again. 

That is the reality for four families in Dadeville today. It is a reality that 28 – dear God, 28! – other families apparently narrowly avoided, after a shooting at a “Sweet 16” birthday party. Law enforcement officials have said four of the people at the party have died and at least 28 others were injured. 

Curiously, over 24 hours later, that’s about all law enforcement has said. We have no idea whether the shooting was targeted, whether the shooters are still at large and a threat, the nature of the injuries of the 28 injured or, generally, just what in the hell happened. An inexcusable lack of transparency for a small town grieving a rare tragedy. 

For the rest of us, though, the specifics don’t matter as much as what we already know: that more human lives – more kids – have been lost as the result of gun violence. Preventable gun violence. 

The prayer vigils and sent prayers and all those thoughts don’t seem to be helping. Maybe because the people with the authority to affect change never follow up on those prayers by actually doing anything.

It’s strange that when multitudes of young people die from meth or heroin or fentanyl, there are always, always, always new laws introduced with the aim to reduce those deaths. And lawmakers always say the same things about those laws – that they “need to show we’re serious about” addressing those problems. 

And yet, when it comes to the number one killer of children – GUNS – these same people pretend there is nothing that can be done. That laws are suddenly pointless.

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Which is why, right now, if you put three boxes of Sudafed and 300 boxes of bullets on the counter at Walmart, guess which one gets registered and limited? 

The fact is laws work to set public expectations and opinions. If you doubt this, consider the feelings many still hold towards marijuana and alcohol. Despite every study in the world showing that marijuana is far safer, less addictive and prone to fewer unintended consequences, because it’s “illegal,” a large number of Americans think of it as the more dangerous of the two. 

Because our laws tell them it is. 

Our laws should also tell Americans that it’s time to take guns seriously. To stop with the macho BS and learn how to use and store a weapon. To take a safety course. To take a shooting instruction course. 

Instead, our laws and lawmakers have told the American public that more guns make us safer. That gun ownership by itself makes you safer. That you can be a hero with a gun. 

And our children are dying daily because of it. Because now, everyone has a gun. Every argument ends with gun play. Every fight ends with a shooting. Every road rage incident ends with shots fired. At every second of every day, a gun is ever-present.

It is long past time to pass some meaningful regulations that adequately address our gun problem. That adequately convey to people that the gun they’re carrying is a deadly weapon. 

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Like these: Universal background checks on ALL sales, including private sales; red flag laws that would allow family members/doctors to bar people with documented mental health issues from owning firearms; required safety courses for anyone who purchases as a handgun; an assault weapons ban and a ban on high-capacity magazines; and bans on all after-market modifications that allow any weapon to fire faster. 

None of those would prevent 99 percent of people from owning a firearm. And the small percentage it would prevent are the people everyone keeps saying we need to address. 

Enough is enough. Every single day there’s another heart wrenching, gut churning tragedy. Many of them involving kids. All of them just absolutely destroying families forever. 

If you want to truly understand the devastating impact of guns on real humans, there is audio that was posted on social media and used during a news report by a local TV station of the aftermath of the Dadeville shooting. In it, you can hear the cries (reportedly) from a mother of one of the victims. The wails, actually. The love and hurt and frustration and just … sadness of a mother. 

It was very familiar. I’d heard it before.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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