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The Grim Truth: The War on Guns Is Lost

There are more unregistered guns in this country than are possessed by the Pentagon, DHS, and police departments combined. And Republicans want more of them.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear
Luke Sharrett/Getty Images
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear speaks during a news conference on Monday after a gunman opened fire at the Old National Bank building in Louisville.

I wrote this article long before the latest mass shooting that just happened, this time in Louisville, Kentucky, because we all know the pattern, and it never changes. There’s a mass shooting and dead innocents, often children. Angry calls for Republicans to do something, and nothing gets done. The incident fades from the 24-hour news cycle, and we resume the waiting game for the next one. It’s Sisyphus with a boulder that rolls downhill and crushes him over and over for eternity.

That’s something that people who support gun control measures need to understand: The war is lost. There is no conceivable way for things to change for the better within the next 20 to 30 years, short of a national divorce. There is no way to change hearts and minds of Republicans or the courts. There is no way to change who is in office in most states. There is no way to replace who sits on the courts quickly or change conservative disdain for stare decisis.

In reality, mass shootings will only become more and more common over the next few years as Republicans have decided that the only solution to gun violence is adding as many guns as possible to the mix.

At the state level, gerrymandering ensures that red states will never put in place elected representatives who would pass gun control. With the primary system as it is, there is zero chance that Republican primaries in these states would suddenly start producing candidates who would support limiting access to guns, much less taking away assault rifles.

In blue states, they already know that there is no hope that the courts will uphold the laws they pass. The Supreme Court effectively overturned the California law that limited magazine size, after ruling in 2022 that states can do little to prevent anyone from buying a gun in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. The conservative Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans, ruled in 2023 that the Second Amendment prevents the government from taking guns from people under restraining orders for committing domestic violence. Nor is the government allowed to prevent them from buying guns.

Some Republicans still want to pretend that they’re engaging with the subject seriously: blaming mental health issues, video games, lack of prayer in schools, and transgender people for mass shootings. But this is simply a distraction: Other countries have all those things, but they don’t have mass shootings. The United States is the only country where people have such ready access to hundreds of millions of firearms, and we are the only country where mass shootings happen with such grim regularity.

The only solution proposed by Republicans is “more guns,” which is the modern equivalent of “No, no. Dig UP, stupid!” Proposals to arm teachers are obviously infeasible: If you don’t give teachers immunity from prosecution and lawsuits, they won’t carry and nothing changes. And if you do give them qualified immunity like cops, then you have the same problem you do with police: namely teachers blowing away mouthy eighth graders (who would be disproportionately Black or Hispanic), which is even worse than the status quo.

Anyone who actually understands the issue knows: It’s the guns, stupid. Which is why in moments of candor Republicans tell the truth: “We’re not gonna fix it.” The Biden administration admitted there’s nothing else feasible that can be accomplished given the structure in place that guarantees nothing can, or will, be done. And the truth is, they’re correct.

Republicans have no intention of doing anything because they’d get primaried if they did. And even if some Republicans agreed to try something, they’d need 60 votes to overcome the filibuster in a Senate where the system of apportionment gives Republicans a +7 advantage in elections (i.e., the Democrats would need to win the national vote by seven points every year just to keep the Senate 50–50, and win by more than 15 points over three election cycles to get to 60 votes).

So substantive federal legislation is nigh impossible, but even if it did manage to get through the House, Senate, and White House, it would have to survive a Supreme Court that has already made it clear that it is not going to allow the government to come between people and unfettered access to weapons of war. These Supreme Court rulings will stand for decades. It is unlikely that anyone reading this will be alive when (and if) the Supreme Court ever reverses itself on gun laws. Any measure that survives both the legislative process and the courts cannot conceivably be substantive enough to have an effect.

But even if you take this scenario a further order of magnitude into fantasy, there is still the reality that there are 400 million unregistered guns in this country, and 20 million of them are AR-15s. That’s more guns than are possessed by the Defense Department, Department of Homeland Security, and police departments combined. That’s more than all the guns manufactured by the U.S. in World War II. Any attempt to register this staggering array of weapons, much less take them away, is an impossible task with owners who are largely unwilling to comply.

At the same time, red states have gone all in on weaponizing our society. We’re seeing permitless concealed carry, open carry, allowances to carry in more places, ending gun-free zones, laws banning red-flag laws; all the while, the number of guns in circulation keeps rising by the millions, year after year after year. Republicans keep insisting that the solution to gun violence is more guns, and they’re going to keep going with that theory no matter what the results are.

This is a one-way ratchet: The path going forward has only one possible outcome. More guns, less regulation of their lethality, and less government authority over who owns them. Predicting the results is tragically easy: more lethality, more frequent mass shootings, more deaths per mass shooting, and more piles of dead children.

For those advocating gun control, you can be civil if it makes you feel morally superior. You can be uncivil if it makes you feel better. You’ll get the same results either way: namely, nothing. I admire those working to try to change these policies. But it is counterproductive to pretend that there is a “normal” political or legal solution: Things are only going to get worse for at least the next 20 to 30 years, if not more, based on the stacked political system and the courts. The system is broken, and it is not fixable in any meaningful sense.

Short of a national divorce, there is nothing that can be done at this point. Mass shootings, and the accompanying piles of dead bodies, are as American as Mom and apple pie. Continuing to pretend that our current system can fix this is tantamount to accepting the status quo. This is going to upset a lot of people and make them angry. I could be wrong; I’m not a psychic. However, no one has proposed a plausible way to get meaningful gun reform through. It’s not for lack of trying either: Every effort for the past decade has failed despite public outcry after each horrific mass shooting. If there was a way, someone would have already found it. But the truth hurts when it means changing your whole worldview: that the war is lost, and your country cannot be saved from not only what it has become but what it chooses to be.