Too Many Guns, Too Many Dead

Daniel House

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Guns and Country

I grew up at a time when Viet Nam played front and center in the lives of our nation, when the war was being broadcast in unedited detail on our television sets every single night. It was a horrible thing to behold, and was literally tearing the consciousness and the social fabric of this country apart.  I was raised by people who believed that our participation in that war was unwarranted and unconscionable. As a kid, I used to have regular nightmares of war. I joined my mom in several protests against the war, a war that we as a nation finally succeeded in ending largely due to the veracity and persistence of protest here and around the world. These experiences, along with the many assassinations and murders that were occurring during the sixties and seventies, firmly cemented my steadfast opposition to the obsessive culture of guns that has infected these United States of America.

Guns and Country

Many years ago, when I was still living in Seattle, at one of the parties that I threw throughout the year, I had a friend walk up to me and inform me that one of the guests was—apparently—carrying a concealed loaded handgun. He was a friend-of-a-friend who was also at the party, so he—like my friends—was welcome as well. His gun however was not.

A little dumbfounded, I walked up to the man and welcomed him to my party and then cut to the chase.

I said “I need to ask you a question. A friend of mine informed me that you are carrying a loaded weapon on your person. Is this true?”

He said that yes, in fact it was true. He was polite about it.

I said, “I need to ask that you take your gun out and put in your car.”

A little incredulous he asked, “Are you serious?”

I told him that I was and said that either the gun needed to be removed from the party or he would need to leave himself.  I assured him that he was welcome, but that his gun was not. He pondered this for a moment, and then left. He was unwilling to remove the gun from under his jacket.  I was more than a little surprised, but accepted that his perceived “right to carry a loaded weapon” was more important to him than an evening engaging with a house full of fantastic and fascinating people.  I still reflect on this and am reminded how skewed some people’s ideology is from mine.

I am writing this post in the wake of the recent shootings of nine attendees at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC on June 18, 2015 by one Dylann Roof.  I have been thinking a lot about the epidemic of public mass murders in our country and have reached something of an emotional breaking point.

Jon Stewart spoke for so many of us I think in his sad and seemingly desperate response to the incident, a video that took over my Facebook feed as so many of my friends were seemingly feeling just as distraught as I was.

Charleston is just the latest in a seemingly never-ending series of killings. Remember Isla Vista on May 23, 2014? 7 dead, 14 wounded. Remember Fort Hood on April 2, 2014? 4 Dead, 14 wounded. Remember Washington D.C. on September 16, 2013? 13 killed, 3 wounded. Remember Santa Monica June 7, 2013? 5 Killed. Remember Newtown on December 14, 2012 (Sandy Hook Elementary School)? 27 killed, I wounded. Remember Brookfield on October 21. 2012? 3 dead, 4 wounded. Remember Minneapolis on September 27 2012? 7 killed, 2 wounded. Remember Oak Creek on August 5, 2012? 6 killed, 3 wounded. Remember Aurora on July 20, 2012? 12 killed, 70 wounded. I could keep going, because the list seems inexhaustible.  The majority of these murder sprees were executed using assault rifles.

There are another three dozen that I did not list since Columbine. Remember Columbine on April 20, 1999? 15 Dead, 24 wounded.

I have a number of friends who debate the tired and faulty Second Amendment argument, that we are guaranteed the right to own firearms in America, but this is a red herring.  It is also lazy.

Discussions about the Second Amendment is not about the right to own a firearm (presumably for the purpose of hunting, “recreation” or self-defense), it was created at a time before we had an organized military as a part of our country.   In this last century, the language has been perverted to extend to the ownership of semi-automatic assault rifles—weapons created purely for killing and for war—as somehow being our god-given right.

I call bullshit.

The simple fact is that we have the single highest per-capita gun ownership of any county in the world. Some claim that we have more guns in America than we have people, but these numbers are debatable. Wikipedia says that the number is approximately 88 guns per 100 residents. In either case, is this something that we should be proud of?

Guns Ownership in America
And with more guns, it just so happens that the U.S. has far more gun-related killings than any other developed country: Each year, more than 30,000 people die in the United States in firearm-related incidents (over a third of those are murders and almost two thirds of those are suicides).

Gun Murder Rates Around the World

In a 2013 article for The Atlantic online that compared gun homicides in US cities to some of the deadliest places in the world, the authors created a map, that shows that a number of U.S. cities have gun homicide rates in line with the most deadly nations in the world:  Atlanta has the same gun murder rate as South Africa, Detroit as El Salvador, Phoenix equal to Mexico’s gun homicide rate. The article goes on to point out that if New Orleans were a country, it would rank second in the world for homicide.

Homicides by State Compared to Countries

So with the single highest per capita rate of ownership and the highest rate of gun-related killings than any other developed country, why is there such a virulent fight for the right to own even more?  We seem to hold on for dear life to our right to “bear arms,” and as seems to be the American way, enough is never enough. What is wrong with us? Maybe it’s time to reassess.

Back to the gun fanatics reading this, please take note that NOBODY is looking to strip the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights, so please –leave that argument at the door.

In an OpEd from John Paul Stevens (an associate justice of the Supreme Court from 1975 to 2010), he makes the point that it was generally understood in legal circles that the Second Amendment specifically limited the scope to uses of arms that were related to military activities.

Indeed, the text of the Second Amendment provides that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” That is by the way, the ENTIRE text of the Second Amendment.

For the sake of removing any ambiguity, but also of restoring sanity and a desire to reduce the incidence of gun violence in America, Stevens suggested the addition of five simple words to the language:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.”

To me, the intent of this language is/was already clear, but without this additional clarification, the unnerving hubris of the NRA and their incredibly powerful lobby will continue to have free run of our government and its policies regarding gun ownership and gun control.

The simple fact however, is that there is no good reason why anybody needs to own a semi-automatic assault rifle. You like target practice? Good for you. Use a regular rifle. I think it’s time to accept that we need to restrict the scope of gun ownership in this country.  Don’t you want to see a decline in the mass-murders that now seem all too commonplace? …and please don’t give me the mental health debate…

The mental health argument is even worse than the Second Amendment argument. Forget about the fact that this argument seems to only be used when the assailant is a white perpetrator (blacks wielding guns are invariably called“thugs“or “terrorists”), because the unassailable fact is that the more guns there are, the more gun deaths there will be as a result.  It does not matter whether the murderer has mental health issues or not. A person with mental illness cannot shoot up a theater or a school or a government facility unless he has the weapon with which to murder.  It’s a pretty simple formula, one that should not take a mathematician to figure out.

Sadly I agree with the Economist that regardless of this never-ending parade of murder sprees, that we will not likely see any gun control in this country. But can we at least finally fess up that with fewer semi-automatic assault rifles, we will see fewer murders happening in the U.S.?

Seriously America, what has became of our common sense?

Additional Reading:

Battleground America from the New Yorker

Gun violence in the United States (Wikipedia)

5 thoughts on “Too Many Guns, Too Many Dead”

  1. super well written! and i really dig the research! backing up your feelings and history are a really solid wall of consciousness and I approve!

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    I’d like to see owning guns treated the same way owning cars is – you need to trained and your gun needs to be registered, inspected and insured. You and your gun need to be licensed.

    But, I hate to see Charleston reduced to guns. The man who shot those people said he wanted to kill all black people. That’s white supremacy. I believe that’s the issue we need to be facing, not guns.

  3. Daniel: loved your post on gun homicides. Let me personally thank you.
    I am something of an expert, at least in that I have owned many forearms and as a kid bought the whole NRA line of shit. Which was: the government wants to confiscate your guns, and once they do, they will enslave the population. Seriously, I shit you not, that is what the hard core believes.

    But to the assault rifle question: it is ludicrous that they are legal, but also high-capacity magazines are absolutely without purpose unless you need to kill a whole lot of people without needing to reload. Which is critical, because you can easily be overpowered while reloading, so that is literally the reason for 30-round magazines – mass murder.

    Mind you, the hard core actually visualizes a future where they will be fighting off government troops that Obama has sent to take their guns, so they think they need them for exactly the purpose for which they are intended. Killing people.

    But only a “few hundred” – I have to put that in quotes because that’s a lot of people, you would think – but out of 12,000 firearm homicides and 30,000 firearm deaths, it’s a small percentage. The villain is handguns. Most civilized nations either prohibit handguns or make you jump thru major hoops to own them, because like assault rifles, their only purpose is to kill people – and they are easily concealed. Target practice isn’t much fun because they are very inaccurate, they are useless for hunting, and they aren’t needed for home defense, because face it – I will take a nice short-barreled shotgun ANY time for home defense over a pistol. No contest.

    We will save hundred of lives by banning assault rifles, but if you want to save THOUSANDS of lives, handguns need to be controlled. In Japan, where it is almost impossible to get a handgun (but rifles and shotguns – HUNTING weapons – are available) in 2007: 2 firearm homicides. Population 150,000,000. In Switzerland, every adult has an assault rifle at home, because of universal military service, but firearm homicides in 2011: 239. In other word, less than Los Angeles, which has a low firearm homicide rate – for America.

    Check out the great charts in the link below. I don’t Facebook, but if you want to post any part of this message, go for it. I know you are going to assailed by gun lovers. C and I travel widely and never worry about firearm related crimes, because most places – they just don’t exist. Only in America!

  4. Very well put Daniel and I really appreciate you taking the time to put this together. I too am still trying to understand peoples relationships with their guns. I have many friends whom own them, and are responsible gun owners. I am personally afraid of them. We are doing our section cover catalog shoot tomorrow for Leg Avenue and in recent discussion there was to be a tommy gun rented for one of the gangster costumes and yesterday I told the team, there will be no guns, because they are not cool, sexy or cute and I don’t want our company affiliated with violent weapon imagery. I suppose its a start? Guns just make me sick.

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