By Brian Lyman
It’s the guns.
They’re the constituents our elected officials value the most. To most of our lawmakers, guns need careful handling.
Not because they’re instruments of death, but because they’re holy and blameless chalices of liberty.
If someone uses a gun as it’s designed, the excuses begin.
What we need is more Jesus.
Alabama has some of the highest church attendance in the nation. It also has one of the highest rates of death from firearms in the country. More Alabamians died from gunfire in 2020 than in the whole state of New York, which is the size of four Alabamas (and where weekly church attendance is about half of ours).
The problem is how we raise our kids.
You’ve got families with problems all around the world. The difference is other countries aren’t so reckless about allowing kids access to guns.
When President Barack Obama said in 2015 that no other country in the world suffered the violence we do, Politifact swiftly moved in to correct him. Because while the United States had 133 mass shootings between 2000 and 2014, Germany had six.
So there, I guess.
It’s mental health.
This is always a great tell. The people who think guns will save us from big government want social services to save the guns.
The Alabama Legislature has tried to increase mental health funding in recent years. That’s good on its own. I could almost believe legislators were serious about applying it to gun violence if they hadn’t overwhelmingly voted last year to get rid of sheriffs’ ability to deny guns to people who shouldn’t have guns.
Hey, the classic Alabama dodge! Wonder if the people who use it know that segregationists defending Jim Crow used it, too?
To be fair, Alabama leaders do a good job of preventing our state from turning into a vibrant and welcoming place for people from around the world. (We pass anti-immigrant laws even though immigrants by and large don’t want to come to Alabama.) But guns always have a home here.
And they’re killing us.
It’s not just Dadeville, where at least four people were killed and 15 were injured in a shooting at a young woman’s Sweet 16 birthday party on Saturday. It’s not just Montgomery, where 19 members of the Class of 2020 died violently before reaching the end of high school.
It’s Alabama having the third-highest homicide rate in the nation, behind only the gun-loving states of Mississippi and Louisiana. It’s the use of firearms in two-thirds of Alabama suicides. It’s all the Alabamians who get hospitalized for gun accidents.
Above all, it’s the fact that guns are now the leading killer of children in the United States.
We are destroying our future. Literally.
And this isn’t a new development: firearms surpassed motor vehicle accidents to take that title in 2017. The federal government has required motor vehicles to have seat belts since 1968, and air bags since 1998.
We ought to be improving safety around guns. Instead, our lawmakers force us to live with firearms and all their dangers, whether we like it or not.
Imagine Alabama lawmakers seeing all the deaths caused by fentanyl and deciding, in the name of bodily autonomy, to make it easier to buy. It would be outrageous and dangerous, causing untold harm to families and communities, and adding to the health care costs in the state.
This is what they’ve done with guns.
Imagine Alabama lawmakers decided that driving a vehicle, being so critical to having a job in the state, meant that testing a person’s ability to operate a car was a dangerous infringement on freedom and made the only requirement to drive the ability to purchase a vehicle. You would drive a lot less on the roads.
This is what they’ve done with guns.
We have spent the better part of 30 years indulging the fear and paranoia of a small subset of gun owners who think they’re going to get killed every time they step out of their homes. We’ve allowed their terror – their paralyzing horror of facing any restriction on a dangerous weapon – to shape our public policy and our jurisprudence.
And so we made a world of fear and paranoia. Firearms flood into public spaces with unnerving speed, and we’re told that still more guns are the answer. Our children get traumatized by lockdown drills, and the only solution Alabama officials have is turning schools into fortifications, or teachers into soldiers.
Now, we can’t celebrate the start of a young person’s life without someone trying to take it.
Did parenting make this? Or a lack of prayer? Or poor mental health services? Or Chicago or New York?
No. It’s the guns.
Brian Lyman has covered Alabama government since 2006. He has worked at the Montgomery Advertiser; the Press-Register and The Anniston Star, and reported on many issues, from the death penalty to climate change to Alabama history. Lyman has won awards from the Associated Press and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights. He lives in Auburn with his wife Julie and their three children. This commentary was published earlier by the Alabama Reflector, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom network, which includes the Florida Phoenix.