Stephen Kent

Shopping malls, theaters, elementary schools, high schools, college campuses, churches and military posts. To these, add one more location in the United States that is no longer safe: airports.

Recently, 23-year-old Paul Ciancia approached the security screening point at Los Angeles International Airport, pulled an automatic rifle from a bag, fatally shot a TSA officer and continued through the checkpoint to enter a concourse, where he continued wounding others.

What place could be safer than where we are required to produce identification, stand for a full body X-ray and explain the contents of what we carry?

“I am not sure what can be done other than effectively banning most types of guns, as in the U.K., where there are minimal shootings,” said Kenneth J. Button, a security expert and public policy professor.

My wife and I were at the mall just after hearing the initial reports of the incident. For the first time, I could visualize a person running down the aisle and firing, or stopping to fire. I was thinking that at any moment, in a mall, could be the last five seconds of my life. A mass shooting could happen at any time in any mall in the U.S.

“This is terrible,” my wife said. “Why don’t they ban guns?” First, because the “they” are those feeding at the trough of the gun lobby. Second, because the absolutist position on firearm possession is too ingrained in this country to change.

If there was a tipping point when public outrage began a popular opposition to unlimited gun ownership, it would have been about a year ago when 20 first-graders and six adults were shot to death in their school in Newtown, Conn. Just thinking of someone looking down at the face of a frightened 6-year-old and pulling the trigger 20 times is enough to make you sick.

The shooting was followed by the obligatory remarks and condolences from people in Washington, and life soon went back to normal. Maybe the grade-school massacre did not inconvenience enough people.

Maybe the LAX shooting will bring some reaction. After all, more than a thousand flights were delayed and thousands of passengers were inconvenienced in Los Angeles.

Let’s admit firearms for recreational use, but what justification is there for automatic weapons? Some say we need automatic weapons to protect ourselves against a government. Where does this disbelief in the functioning of a democracy leave us? Paul Ciancia evidently had a grudge against the government and used a bullet rather than a ballot to proclaim it.

By some estimates, the United States has some 300 million guns in circulation — more guns per capita than any other nation. Australia and Britain have strict gun laws, passed after massacres in those countries. “What we have in the U.K. now are significantly lower levels of gun crime, levels that continue to fall today,” said Andy Marsh, firearms director at Britain’s Association of Chief Police Officers.

“People say you can’t unwind hundreds of years of gun history and culture [in America], but here in the U.K., we’ve learned from our tragedies and taken steps to reduce the likelihood of them ever happening again.”

It is well past time to unwind the gun culture in America, or accept it and wonder if the next trip to the mall, school or airport will be your last.

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Kent is the retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. Contact him at: considersk@gmail.com.