Where's the outrage over gun violence?Commentary

What a bunch of wimps we are.

Teenagers are running around the valley terrorizing each other with guns, and one Palo Verde High School student is dead for no good reason, yet nary a word is uttered about where kids are getting these guns or whether we're doing the right things to prevent kids from getting them.

What's the problem? My take is we're afraid of the National Rifle Association. We're terrified that if we ask questions or make suggestions, we'll be painted as -- God forbid -- liberals. Or wimps. Or communists.

It's a bunch of hooey, but it seems the gun lobby has intimidated us into bed-wetting submission.

Please understand, I'm not really being critical of the NRA's aggressive posture. On the contrary, its leaders have done an incredible job of lobbying for the free flow of guns across the nation. That's what the organization's membership pays them to do, and they do a fine job of it.

My criticism is reserved for those Las Vegans who don't think it's such a great thing for teenagers to carry handguns in their backpacks, and who think it might be a good idea to explore constructive ways to reduce the scourge of gun violence in our community.

Some of those very people, by the way, are undoubtedly dues-paying NRA members. You have to believe the overwhelming majority of NRA members don't think teenagers should be using handguns to exact revenge for some perceived slight at school.

But nobody's talking about guns.

Yet, to borrow an apt saying, guns are the elephant in the room. In the wake of the Palo Verde homicide and other recent school-related shootings, we've heard school district leaders and police officials plead for better parenting, which is appropriate, but they haven't said a word about guns.

Apparently it's a taboo subject.

It's taboo because the NRA has effectively spread the message that any sort of regulation or enforcement of guns is tantamount to taking them away from law-abiding Americans. This is a rhetorical leap of logic and patently untrue. Citizens are permitted to own registered firearms in every state in the union (the one exception being a vigorously challenged handgun ban in Washington, D.C.), and that's not likely to change.

A range of laws has been passed in many states attempting to address gun violence without taking registered firearms away from responsible citizens. Have these laws been effective? Results vary.

We all know that dedicated bad guys can figure out how to get guns if they really want them. There seems to be a constantly replenished underground stockpile of unregistered weapons that bad guys have no trouble tapping into.

But in the bigger picture, statistics make a compelling case that sensible gun regulation and aggressive enforcement measures can deter or prevent mentally ill or violently inclined people from getting guns and using them. About 1.4 million people have been denied access to guns because of background checks required since enactment of the Brady Law in 1994.

Nevada's gun regulation is notoriously lax. We don't require background checks for sales at gun shows. Gun owners are not held accountable for making guns accessible to kids. Child safety locks are not required on guns. Bulk gun purchases are not limited. The list goes on and on.

But we like it that way, right? This is the Wild West, after all, home field of the frontier mentality, the place people flee to when they feel the government squeeze elsewhere.

That seemed to work for us 50 years ago, when Las Vegas was a fairly small place, unaffected by the social and economic traumas of urban life.

But today we have more than 2 million people living in Clark County, and most of them have settled shoulder to shoulder in the Las Vegas Valley. It's getting crowded. Our racial and ethnic mix is diverse. We have rich and poor and people in between. Most of us have come here from someplace else, and we aren't sure whether we're going to stick around very long.

Along with its rapid growth, Las Vegas has seen an increase in property crime, drug dealing, gang activity and gun violence. Also: drug and alcohol addiction, problem gambling and child abuse and neglect. This is what happens when you welcome the world to move here, and they take you up on it. Growth comes with strings attached.

Growth, apparently, also supports a healthy gun trade -- legal and illegal. Once upon a time in Las Vegas, only the sheriff's deputies, mob enforcers and hunters felt the impulse to have guns. Nowadays, it seems, most everybody here wants to have a loaded weapon on hand for one reason or another.

Again, the problem isn't the guy who properly registers his handgun, undergoes training to handle it and keeps it in a secure place in his home just in case he must defend his family against a menacing intruder. That scenario, I submit, is the essence of what Second Amendment freedoms are all about.

The problem is the parent who casually leaves a weapon lying around the house where it can be picked up by his thrill-seeking kid. And the problem is the guy who profits from selling unregistered firearms to anyone and everyone on the black market.

We must be more vigilant in going after guns that aren't registered and aren't safely kept and fall into the hands of people who would use them in illegal and violent ways. We must crack down on the crooks who sell firearms to criminals. We need to hold accountable those adults who essentially put guns in the hands of children.

This seems so basic and yet the prevailing political rhetoric serves to protect people who provide guns to kids who shoot other kids. Gun violence is a national epidemic, and yet even our presidential candidates won't go near the subject. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama wants to touch the gun issue for fear that it'll cost them votes.

The whole discussion -- or lack thereof -- is cowardly and tragically messed up.

Geoff Schumacher (gschumacher@reviewjournal.com) is Stephens Media's director of community publications. He is the author of "Sun, Sin & Suburbia: An Essential History of Modern Las Vegas" and "Howard Hughes: Power, Paranoia & Palace Intrigue." His column appears Sunday.