It seems to me…
“Now is the time for a national policy on guns that takes the loopholes out of the laws, the automatic weapons out of our neighborhoods, and the tragedies like today out of our future.” ~ Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino.
I have had at least one rifle – and usually more — for about 65 years and never have shot anyone (though I once was accidentally shot). My brother-in-law owns over 300 – most of which were purchased either privately or at gun shows – and also has never shot anyone. While we are typical of most gun owners, I do not think it in any way indicates increased gun control is unnecessary or not fully justified. Most gun owners are responsible individuals but they are not the problem. Most people never break into houses but we still have legal restrictions intended to prevent people from entering uninvited (though I still lock my doors). As in most cases, the personal rights of the vast majority must be restricted as a result of the few exceptions.
While many details concerning weapons used in the Newtown, CT, shootings still have not been disclosed, most of the weapons apparently were purchased legally. Connecticut is one of the states with the most restrictive gun control (rated third among all states) but it did not prevent the latest incident. Vast numbers of guns are out there and easily obtained either at gun shows or through private sales without background checks.
None of this changes the basic fact that something must be done to prevent the escalating violence in our country. America’s love of guns will not change overnight; unfortunately, we will have more of these incidents. Hopefully this latest carnage of innocents will be sufficient impetus to initiate recovery from what has become our national insanity. We cannot permit these repeated slaughters across our country to continue.
The occurrence of most crimes in the U.S. – theft, burglary, robbery, assault… – is about the same as in other advanced countries but the U.S. gun homicide rate is significantly higher. With 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has 50 percent of the guns: 55 million gun-owners own 310 million firearms: 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles, and 86 million shotguns. In 2011, there were 11,101 homicides due to guns, 19,766 suicides, 852 accidental deaths, and 445 deaths categorized as unknown[i].
Everyone deplores the number of traffic-related deaths, especially those resulting from intoxication. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 32,885 people died in U.S. traffic crashes in 2010 including an estimated 10,228 people who died in drunken driving accidents accounting for 31 percent of all traffic deaths last year[ii]. Considerable effort is expended to prevent drunk driving which totaled less than gun-related deaths. Where is the comparable outcry regarding guns?
55 percent of the U.S. population supports stricter gun control: 69 percent favor gun registration, 58 percent favor a ban on high-capacity clips, 56 percent favor a ban on assault-type weapons, and 52 percent favor restrictions on the amount or type of ammunition purchased[iii]. Why do our elected representatives not listen to what their constituents say they want?
Gun ownership in Switzerland frequently is used by gun-rights advocates as an example that guns are not dangerous. The fact is that Switzerland has the second highest rate of handgun ownership and handgun murders in the industrialized world (after the U.S.) even though it also has far stricter gun control laws. Regardless of the location, there is absolutely no question that a higher percentage of gun ownership results in greater gun-related incidents. Let me repeat that: More guns equates to more gun deaths. People also are far more likely to be injured or killed by their own firearm than use it against an assailant.
In Switzerland, gun ownership is limited to three firearms. Cantons (states) require handgun registration and issue licenses for handgun purchases on a “must issue” basis. Any ammunition bought on the private market is also registered. Ammunition can be bought unregistered at government subsidized shooting ranges, but, by law, one must use all the ammunition at that range. Because so many people own rifles, there is no regulation on carrying them but 15 of the 26 cantons have regulations on carrying handguns.
There also are substantial social differences between the U.S. and Switzerland. Switzerland is one of the world’s richest countries but has remained relatively isolated. It has none of the social problems associated with gun crime seen in other industrialized countries similar to the U.S. such as drugs or urban deprivation.
According to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, the U.S. gun homicide rate is 30 times that of France or Australia and 12 times higher than the average for other developed countries. While it is tempting to associate a cultural of violence with gun violence, there does not appear to be any substantive difference between the U.S. and Switzerland or England in the percentage of people playing video games or watching violent movies yet their gun homicide rate is a small fraction of ours. The Japanese lead the world in playing video games but their gun homicide rate is essentially zero. Britain has tough gun laws and Japan has the tightest gun regulation in the industrialized world.
Instead of a standing, full-time army, Switzerland requires every man to undergo some form of military training for a few days or weeks a year throughout most of their lives. Consequently, Swiss men and women from an early age associate weaponry with defense of their country.
Facts substantiate that the incidence of gun-related violence is directly related to the percentage of guns in that area. Consequently, any increase in guns is only going to result in increased violence. Let’s consider some of the rationalizations used to justify opposition to increased gun control:
- One of the common reasons for purchasing a gun is “We need guns to protect ourselves and our families”. While having a gun might make someone feel more secure, a weapon is four to six times more likely to be used accidentally rather than that someone will be able to use it in self-defense during a break in. This is not to deny that you “might” be able to use it for self-protection but the odds are statistically against you when you own a gun.
- Another common argument against increased gun control is “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns”. And, yes, I agree this is basically correct. However, increased gun control such as requiring gun show and personal background checks, ballistic finger printing, and assault weapon bans eventually would provide law enforcement the ability to identify sources for weapons used for criminal activities. These types of controls will not restrict ownership for the majority of purchasers so there should not be objections unless there was some nefarious reason for the purchase. The intent is not to outlaw guns, only to prevent outlaws from obtaining them.
- We frequently hear the excuse “Someone can be killed just as easily with a knife as with a gun so if guns are outlawed, people will just use other weapons instead” as an objection to increased gun control. If this were true, we should consider arming our military with knives instead of guns. There obviously are considerable differences between guns and other types of weapons. In a criminal assault, an assault with a gun is about five times more likely to end in a fatality than with a knife. Guns also are able to be used from a distance rather than at close range providing the victim with less opportunity for self-defense.
- We all repeatedly have heard “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people”. While I never have tried to kill someone, I have heard it is significantly more difficult than we see on TV or in the movies. A study showed that many victims of accidental firearm-related injuries are children under 15 – two-thirds of accidental gun-related deaths occurred in the home and one-third involved children; 45 percent were self-inflicted and 16 percent occurred when children were playing with guns.
Individuals in possession of a gun at the time of an assault are 4.46 times more likely to be shot in the assault than persons not having a gun. Rather than being used for defense, most weapon-related deaths or injuries are to the owner or their families. Statistically, it is obvious that guns do in fact kill people.
Just prior to the Newtown murders, an obviously mentally disturbed man entered a school in China’s Henan province and tried to kill children. The only weapon he was able to get was a knife and while 23 children were injured, not one died.
- There are many that believe “Gun ownership is a basic right guaranteed under the Constitution”. I agree that the Supreme Court has held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia and to use that weapon for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home, and that this right applies not just to the federal government but also to states and municipalities. No one is proposing a ban on ownership. The second amendment does not confer the right to possess an unlimited number or unrestricted types of weapons.
- “I’m a responsible gun owner and I follow all appropriate safety precaution so shouldn’t I be able to own any weapon I want”. Most gun owners are responsible. However there have to be limits. There must be some types of weapons control: explosives, mortars, or grenade-launchers need to be restricted even if I only intended to use them “responsibly”. There have to be limits and, unfortunately, this is one of those rights that must be limited for the general good.
- “You’re not going to take away my freedom!” Curtailing gun ownership isn’t about taking away freedoms; it’s about giving freedom back to the people – the freedom to live without fear – and making sure that people who DO have guns take more responsibility for them.
Other objections to increased gun control can be dispensed with just as easily. The fact is that it never will be possible to convince many gun-control opponents that increased controls are necessary. It also is true that many control advocates unrealistically consider those opposed to increased controls to be pro-gun fanatics and basically the kind of people who believe President Obama to be a Kenyan socialist atheistic Islamist and that the urban hordes are coming for their property any day now. Neither side in this debate will be satisfied with the outcome. The pendulum of public opinion has swung back and forth on this issue over the years and gun ownership currently is higher than it has ever previously been in our nation’s history.
The line needs to be drawn somewhere; maybe it is time for a bit more balance. Gun related injuries and deaths are way out of line in the US compared to all other developed countries – and it is all because of our acceptance of violence as a way of life and our pandering to special interest groups to allow more guns that only leads to even more violence.
Some propose turning our schools and other institutions into fortresses but this would be adamant to admitting defeat and converting them instead into virtual prisons. The basic limitations to these suggestions should be obvious as it would be impossible to do this for all the movie theaters, shopping malls, churches, and other publicly accessible facilities that recently experienced similar violence. How could politicians like Gabby Gifford be provided protection when meeting constituents in a public parking area?
Increasing the number of armed security guards is not likely to help. Even well-trained police officers normally hit their intended target only about 30 percent of the time when the target is not firing a weapon and 18 percent of the time when he is – in a shootout with an armed man in New York, officers hit 9 bystanders in addition to their target[iv]. Since security guards are not as well trained or experienced as police officers, they are not what we want in our schools.
Organizations such as the NRA are attempting to place primary blame on the mentally disturbed and say increased psychological treatment is needed. While this obviously has some truth, if psychology problems were the primary problem, the U.S. should have 12 times as many psychologically disturbed people as other advanced nations but it does not. Mental disorders are taken seriously and our investment in this area is higher than elsewhere. Improvements in the quality and scope of background checks, including better mental health and more recent criminal records, and better coordination with schools, mental-health officials and police would help prevent the mentally disturbed and criminals from acquiring weapons.
The time has come to set some limits on how much we are willing to accept. No one is suggesting that hunting be banned or that collectors be forced to give up their hobby. The NRA not only could be instrumental in gun reform, by becoming advocates they could benefit by becoming the primary agency for training and licensing. If they willingly changed their policies, they might even regain members who cancelled their membership years ago in opposition to the NRA’s extreme opposition to reasonable gun control measures.
Tightening laws can reduce gun violence Australia, after a 1996 ban on all automatic and semiautomatic weapons (not like the one we enacted in 1994 with 600-plus exceptions), gun-related homicides dropped 59 percent over the next decade and the firearm suicide rate dropped 65 percent[v].
It can be done – and the time to do it is NOW.
That’s what I think, what about you?
[i] Scherer, Michael. The Next Gun Fight, Time, 28 January 2013, pp24-32.
[ii]Drunk Driving Fatalities – National Statistics, The Century Council, http://www.centurycouncil.org/drunk-driving/drunk-driving-fatalities-national-statistics.
[iii] Time/CNN Poll. Special Report, Time, 28 January 2012, pp34-35.
[iv] Ripley, Amanda. Your Brain Under Fire, Time, 28 January 2012, pp36-41.
[v] Zakaria , Fareed. The Solution To Gun Violence Is Clear, http://fareedzakaria.com/2012/12/19/the-solution-to-gun-violence-is-clear/, 19 December 2012.