In the aftermath of the Washington Navy Yard mass killing, I heard one of the investigators talk about the thorough investigation that was in process—that law enforcement was committed to finding out everything it could about why Aaron Alexis chose to kill so many people, and how it was possible for him to do so. In my head, I was asking another “why.” Not about why he had done this horrible thing, but why should we bother to investigate every last detail. Will it matter? Will it finally motivate this country to think about guns differently? I doubt it.
Using the most recent CDC estimates for yearly deaths by guns in the United States, it is likely that as of 9/18/2013 roughly 24,680 people died from guns in the United States since the Newtown shootings (according to http://www.slate.com). That’s more people than live in the small city that Old South is located in, and the larger city, Augusta, just next door.
Is this an issue for people of faith? For the church? Sure it is. But, it’s hard to know where to begin, or what to do, when the problem appears so insurmountable. We are stunned by senseless acts of violence, but we seem incapable of moving our horror to any kind of action that is meaningful.
Jon Stewart, on The Daily Show, offered one of the most compelling, yet utterly and completely depressing, assessment of the situation we are in, where politicians will argue for the unwavering sanctity of the constitutional guarantee of gun ownership, yet look upon other provisions of the constitution (especially in regard to keeping the country supposedly safe from terrorists) as not quite so sacred. You can see The Daily Show piece here:
Unfortunately, I don’t have much of anything especially enlightening to share, but this is what I’ve been thinking about for the past several days, and praying over—that we’ll start to find our way to a more meaningful response to the violence that is part of our lives. I really don’t want to be so pessimistic, but it is simply overwhelming to me that so many horrific examples of gun violence—not to mention those cases of gun violence that are not horrific enough to make it to the news—cannot motivate meaningful conversation about reasonable gun control.
Silly me, I still believe there is such a thing as reasonable gun control.
Most of us—even Republicans it turns out—somehow are able to understand that there is such a thing as reasonable violations of privacy, in order to keep the country safe. I cling to the hope that we will get to that place where we can talk about and adopt reasonable gun control. It’s clear, though, that we aren’t there yet. So, another group of people has fallen victim to our ornery ways. I pray for their families. And I pray too for the next group of victims, as well as investigators who will tell us why and how—until the whys and the hows really sink in and push us to act.
“Using the most recent CDC estimates for yearly deaths by guns in the United States, it is likely that as of 9/18/2013 roughly 24,680 people died from guns in the United States since the Newtown shootings…”
The majority of these were suicides. However tragic these suicides were, especially for the families of the people who killed themselves, the fact is that people who kill themselves with guns are not the kind who are “crying for help.” They really mean to kill themselves and in countries where guns are hardly available at all they still kill themselves (e.g., Japan has a very high suicide rate and almost non-existent private firearms ownership).
It is a misnomer to call suicides “gun violence.” Real violence always involves at least two parties and that has been true since Cain and Abel.
When I was a kid in the 1950s we had lots of guns and they were easy to get. I could buy a German battle rifle from WWII by mailorder from an ad in the back of a comic book. People had M1 Garand rifles surplus from WWII and Korea that are very much more powerful than an AR-15. Or they had M1 carbines with “high capacity” magazines. Kids sometimes brought rifles to school in the one room country school where I started out my learning adventure.
One thing we didn’t have though was a lot of drugs being prescribed to kids for ADHD. The pharma industry behind those drugs is at least 100x larger than the personal firearms industry. I have written about that in depth here:
Guns And Drugs
Another point is that a very large part of the gun violence problem is highly localized. It is primarily in inner cities where we are fighting a Drug War and where gangs of young men with little hope of employment are killing each other in record numbers. Per FBI stats for 2011 for homicide where the race of the offender was known it was black 52.4% of the time although blacks are less than 14% of the population. And other blacks are most often the victim. We have a serious social problem and a lot of politicians want a quick easy fix which won’t work, that is, banning guns.
One last detail. Homicide rates today are approaching historic lows. I am in my sixth decade and rates are now near where I was as a kid, down from record highs in the 1990s. That is fact that most people don’t seem to be aware of.
But that there is one thing that makes it look a lot worse. Mass shooting and school shootings.
One cause I suspect are drugs – see my article above. Another is “gun free zones” that basically tell a psychopath where they can most easily kill undefended people and kids. If the principal at Newtown had had a gun I bet it wouldn’t have been news at all – just a young kid commits suicide after running away from an adult with a gun.
If I have not rambled too much, here is a link to another article – not by me this time – by a former policeman and subject matter expert:
Everything that’s wrong with the argument against protecting schools with guns
I totally agree with some of your sentiments about how depressing some of these things can be. Hopefully though people can look at some other things that are involved other than availability of guns and see the problem is not nearly as simple as banning guns.
Thanks for your comments, and for reading my blog.
I’m wondering what you think about responses to other forms of violent crime. Terrorism, for instance. In the big picture, not many people are killed in the United States by terrorists. So, should we not bother with government surveillance programs that, at least to some extent, invade the privacy of citizens?
Or, put another way, the government claims that a significant number of terrorist acts have been thwarted through vigilant surveillance programs– “reasonable” and “minor” infringement on the bill of rights, many politicians would argue. What’s the problem, then, in enacting “reasonable” and “minor” controls on the use of guns– which are significantly more powerful, and dangerous, than the guns of the Founding Fathers– if lives could be saved?
Please also note: I don’t argue for the “banning” of guns. I live in Maine, where many people hunt. I don’t think it’s helpful to equate gun control with the banning of guns. They are not the same.
One other thought. You wrote:
“I’m wondering what you think about responses to other forms of violent crime. Terrorism, for instance.”
As a person with Libertarian leanings I thing we ought to be very concerned as to how the Federal government has:
1. Militarized our police forces using a justification of a Drug War.
2. Largely stripped Americans of privacy via the NSA and other programs, many of which we may not even know of yet.
3. Used the IRS to target groups for purely political motivations.
So when I hear words like “reasonable” applied to any of the above, I am naturally cynical.
“What’s the problem, then, in enacting “reasonable” and “minor” controls on the use of guns”
A lot depends on what you think is “reasonable” or “minor.” We have laws that forbid felons and the dangerously mentally ill from buying or possessing firearms. I have read that the Obama administration has greatly reduced the prosecution of people lying on form 4473s (fill out when buy from dealer before NICS check). If you are not even enforcing the laws you already have what is the point of more?
But in any case, I have a suggestion for universal background checks that I think many gunowners would support:
Universal Background Checks