At least 232 people have died in a fire that swept through a nightclub in Santa Maria, a university town in southern Brazil. Many of the victims succumbed to the toxic fumes, or were crushed to death in the crowd's panicked efforts to escape. The fire reportedly started when a band set off fireworks.
It's a horrible tragedy, and the focus for the moment should be on comforting the grieving. But...
The priority for the authorities is now to identify the dead with many distressed relatives arriving at the scene, but in the hours ahead the focus will turn to the cause of this accident and safety procedures at the club, the BBC's Gary Duffy reports from Sao Paulo.
The strict fire codes we have—capacity limits, emergency exits, sprinkler systems, bans on certain activities, etc.—came in the wake of similar tragedies. Because, you know, the gun nuts are kinda metaphorically right when they say that "guns don't kill people, people kill people." The same is true of nightclubs. So we regulate the people running these night clubs in an effort to avoid preventable tragedies like that which just happened in Brazil. If the authorities find the fire codes weren't up to best practices, one hopes they'll tighten them. If they find that the night club owners violated existing codes, they'll presumedly be prosecuted, and local authorities will hopefully redouble their efforts to enforce the regulations already in place.
Likewise, when we talk of gun control, we're not really talking about regulating guns, but rather, regulating the people who use guns. Our nation is suffering an epidemic of gun violence totally disproportionate to that being suffered anywhere in the world that isn't in the midst of a bloody civil war. Clearly, there are regulations that might lessen this ongoing American tragedy. Perhaps, for example, keeping guns out of the hands of felons and the mentally ill via mandatory background checks on all private gun sales.
So yeah, guns on their own don't kill people. But then, neither do nightclubs. Our goal as a nation should be to find the proper regulatory balance between the benefits of gun ownership, both individual and societal, and the cost. And given our annual gun carnage, it is currently reasonable to argue that this balance is tragically out of whack.