A Palmetto M4 assault rifle

A Palmetto M4 assault rifle (August 10, 2012)

I happened to be on a vacation in Europe when the horrendous news of the shooting in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater showing Batman broke. BBC news covered the shooting of 71 people and the killing of 12 nonstop. But beyond the horror of the story itself, I was struck by the tone of the international reporting--every news story ended with incredulity that the shooter had gotten his two handguns, shotgun, assault-style rifle and high-capacity clips legally.

It's not a tone seen in mainstream media reporting in the U.S., where the issue of gun control is the third rail of politics. That understandably shocked reaction at the ease in which people can legally get guns and ammunition is almost always missing in the American coverage of gun violence. It barely registered in January 2011 when Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) was shot in the head by a man who used a high-capacity 30-round magazine, which he also used to shoot 19 people and kill a federal judge and five others. It has also been largely missing from the coverage of the shooting outside of Milwaukee this week at a Sikh temple that killed six people and wounded three others using a semi-automatic pistol.

Seeing America's gun violence epidemic through international eyes really drove home the absurdity of gun-control politics in this country. Even the most basic talk of trying to curtail obvious problems, like high-capacity clips and assault rifles, is met with screams of "2nd amendment remedies" and stockpiling of weapons that have no practical use for personal protection or casual sport hunting. The National Rifle Association even shuts down talk of closing loopholes for gun shows that allow buyers to circumvent background checks. 

Gun-control conversations, despite the repeated violence we see in cities across America, simply cannot be had in a meaningful way.

Hearing in-depth discussions on why anyone would need these weapons for any legitimate reason from international news sources drove home the realities of our broken system and our inability to fix it--or even talk about it. Instead, we as a nation pretend that modern-day high-powered weapons that can kill large numbers of people quickly are somehow still comparable to what our constitutional forefathers foresaw when they lived in a time of muzzle-loaded rifles that fired a single shot. 

While crazy people intent on doing violence will undoubtedly find a way to hurt people, the outcomes of those events would be vastly different if we still lived in those muzzle-loading colonial times as opposed to an age where weapons of mass carnage can be legally purchased by anyone with enough money. We as a nation must step back, stop screaming at each other and look for real solutions to gun violence. A small dose of that international incredulity could go a long way in cooling the overheated rhetoric that has for too long defined our country's relationship with guns.