America Needs to Face the Facts about Gun Violence

Becky O'Malley
Friday October 06, 2017 - 02:21:00 PM
Source: https://www.redtoblueca.org/
Source: https://www.redtoblueca.org/

After a gunman shot about 550 of his fellow Americans, killing more than 50 of them, the president of the United States announced that he is proud to be an American.

Well, I’m sure as hell not.

Yes, yes, he was praising the response of those who had the unenviable responsibility for mopping up after the catastrophe. But he was totally ignoring the abdication of responsibility by those who allow this kind of thing to happen more and more often in this benighted country.

That would be all of us, Fellow Americans.

With all due respect to the many voices who have tried to explain what went wrong this time, it just doesn’t matter why this particular individual did what he did, or how he was able to get away with it.

What might have made a difference?

Screening for “mental illness”? He passed with flying colors, but failing wouldn’t have predicted this anyway. Many, many, many Americans have some form of what might be called mental illness in ordinary language, but the vast majority of them are not potential mass murderers. You can’t spot ‘em that way.

Religious fanatic? Nope, though as many commentators have pointed out, if he’d been a Moslem that would be taken as the explanation. But he stayed away from religion.

PTSD? Never went near the military.

We are citizens of a country which is no longer fact-based, about mass killings as well as about many other topics which can be scientifically explained to the remaining few Americans who can still process information.

It’s the guns, stupid. 

Simply put, the United States has many more guns in proportion to residents than any country in the world, and also many more gun deaths in proportion to its population than any other “civilized” country (excluding Latin American countries now in a situation essentially a war between drug dealers and civil society.) 

It’s not just also more gun deaths, it’s therefore more gun deaths. 

Charts of the pertinent facts have been widely published this week . A very good set is How US gun culture compares with the world in 5 charts, by Kara Fox on CNN. It tells you all you need to know: we have too damn many guns looking for victims, period. 

Focus today is on banning add-on gadgets that turn one murderous impulse into mass murder, but even one death is too many, and we have too many deaths, whether singly or by the dozens. 

Like most people in this country, I’ve seen several incidents of gun violence among family, friends and acquaintances. 

One killer would certainly have been disqualified as “mentally ill” if he’d sought to buy his guns through standard retail channels, but of course he got them elsewhere with no difficulty. He not only killed himself, he took a couple of neighbors with him when he went off the rails. 

Another, the lawyer son of family friends, was an innocent bystander in a law firm where a disgruntled ex-employee showed up with a hunting rifle. As I recall, about a dozen co-workers were killed in that incident. 

A third was a perfectly normal-seeming older upper-middle class white guy who killed himself with a handgun that had been in his closet for years, seemingly on impulse--no threats, no suicide note, no financial problems. According to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, white men are 79 percent of all firearm suicide victims and about 60 percent of total gun deaths in the U.S. 

And then there are the brothers, cousins, nephews and grandsons of friends who live in mostly-minority neighborhoods where there are gangs. All the victims that I’ve known about were believed, at least by the family members they left behind, to have been hit by stray bullets, caught in crossfire or mistaken for someone else. 

There’s only one thread that connects all these people: the availability of guns. Otherwise, their backgrounds and situations were disparate in the extreme. 

The Russian playright Chekhov said that "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there." Only logical. 

We have now in the United States of America almost one gun for every man, woman and child in the United States, hanging on our collective walls ready to use. Don’t think for a minute that a lot of them will not be fired at someone in the next act. 

Our national inability to recognize that too many gun deaths is the direct consequence of too many guns is right up there on a par with our leaders’ willful ignorance of the threat of climate change. In the language of pop psychology, we’re in deep denial. 

It’s not that polls don’t show substantial numbers, even majorities, of voters who’d like to do something about both gun violence and climate change. For historical and structural political reasons we just don’t seem to be able to elect leaders who are willing to do something about either problem. 

One specious argument in defense of widespread gun ownership derives from the Second Amendment. Yes, there were big flaws in the Constitution, which was drafted by and for male white property owners, but some have already been corrected, so why not fix this one? (I liked a letter in today’s paper which suggested that the Constitution should be amended to allow only women to have guns for militia purposes, since the vast majority of mass murderers are men, perhaps 97% by some estimates.) 

Well-meaning activists have been trying to solve the problem piecemeal, but gun interests manage to weasel their way around whatever specific language is passed, like the failed attempts to ban automatic rifles. Without touching the Second Amendment, a willing congress could finally act on its “well-regulated” language and put significant and binding national regulations on gun ownership itself. At the national level we regulate cigarettes, automobiles, pharmaceuticals, meat packing, organic produce…why not firearms? 

Each and every gun in this country should be registered with the federal government, required to be stored unloaded and kept under lock and key, preferably away from homes. Unregistered firearms should be subject to immediate confiscation, no exceptions, and possessors prosecuted. No one should be permitted to fire a weapon, even for target shooting, who has not passed tests at least as stringent as those for a driver’s license.  

All of this is only common sense, something U.S. citizens seem to lack however. If even a percentage of such regulations took a percentage of guns out of circulation, there would be a similar percentage decrease in gun deaths. Country after country, including Australia and Canada, which historically had “wild west” settlement patterns similar to ours, have proved that this works. 

Like much else, it starts with the U.S. Congress, and most immediately with the 2018 elections. Add this to all the other reasons why we need to be working right now on getting rid of as many congressional Republicans as possible.  

After that, of course, don’t kid yourself, lobbying of members of both parties will still be needed.