I’m sick of this. Yesterday, shoppers at yet another shopping mall – one that I used to take my son to when he was younger – was victimized by yet another shooter. This one was in the town of Columbia, MD, perhaps 10 miles from where I raised my son. Three major shootings have occurred in Colorado over the years, within 5 miles of where I moved to in Denver many years ago. In fact, the Aurora theater shooting occurred just blocks from the first apartment I lived in when I first moved there. I also know someone who lost a child at Columbine. It’s too close to home. Am I emotional? Hell yes! People dying unnecessarily is an emotional issue. We went overboard when terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but we can do nothing about a problem that kills tens of thousands of people and wounds tens of thousands more every year?
This type of thing is just too common. Mass shootings, people being caught in the crossfire in gang and drug-infested communities, accidents that happen because people don’t think to lock the gun up when the kids are around. These stories are a daily occurrence. And I am always surprised by those who seem puzzled as to why there seem to be more incidents in the news involving guns, and why guns seem to be more of a problem these days. Well, you know, that’s one reason we have a problem.
There is actually good news, in that the gun homicide rate has actually dropped 49% since 1993. (Source) That was the year the Brady Law passed, which indicates gun control does work, and we need more of it. Of course, homicide is not the only way people die from guns. And thanks to medical science, a lot of people who are shot now survive, albeit many of them crippled or unable to work.
The sad fact is, in the United States, besides the 31,347 gun deaths (Source) reported in 2009, more than 73,000 non-fatal gun injuries were also reported. (Source) The fact that there are half as any homicides as 20 years ago, and there are still more than 100,000 reported gunshot wounds each year, should be at least a little scary. Why so many? The answers are many, but they aren’t all that hard to figure out.
1. There are a lot more shooters and possible targets: There are 316 million people in the US now, as opposed to 259 million 20 years ago, and 212 million 20 years before that. Nearly 50% more people makes it difficult to keep the numbers down. (Source)
2. There are a lot more irrational gun owners out there: There are currently estimated to be between 260-310 million guns in this country. (Source) It’s impossible to know for sure, because guns aren’t registered or titled or even tracked. In fact, it was technically illegal for anyone to research the effects of gun violence for years. Gun sales have been booming for a decade (Source), and they set another record last year. (Source) The most commonly cited reason for a gun purchase is a fear that someone will put restrictions on gun sales, a reason that is wholly irrational. That means you have millions of people buying guns for an irrational reason. Only about half of all Americans own a gun, even though there’s likely a gun for every man woman and child in the country. That means the average gun-owning family of four has eight guns. Does that sound rational to anyone? It also means that, for every family with one gun, there’s another with 15. I could go on, but you get the idea. Gun ownership these days is too often based on irrationality.
3. There’s nothing to stop anyone from buying a gun, including those who shouldn’t have them: There are still no restrictions in most states on gun sales not made by licensed dealers. That means someone with a criminal record needs only to check Craigslist or the local classifieds to find a gun and get it without a background check. Guns are never really registered, so after the initial sale, a gun can be resold multiple times without anyone knowing who has it. The guy who shot up the movie theater in Aurora was able to accumulate about 20 guns, several high-volume clips and 6,000 rounds of ammunition buying on the Internet without so much as a driver’s license. And Aurora police had no idea he had any of it. Now, it’s possible they might not have stopped him even if they knew. But they could have checked him out and found out he was mentally ill and taken them, thus saving lives. Under current law, though, we know police can’t stop him. Yet, we do nothing.
4. Technology has made guns easier to use and more lethal: Do you realize the shooter who killed 26 people in Newtown 13 months ago wasn’t even in the same room as most of the precious babies he killed? Technology has changed everything; why would anyone imagine that the guns being used have any relation to guns used 20 or 40 years ago. Back in the 1970s, you couldn’t walk into the local gun shop and walk out with a gun and ammunition that could kill 26 people in a matter of seconds. Large capacity clips and high tech bullets allow shooters to kill dozens without even having to aim, and they weren’t available 40 years ago. And there are little to no restrictions on any of it, especially since Republicans saw to it the assault weapons ban was lifted. Bullets that pierce walls, pierce armor, go through Kevlar — these are just some of the great technological marvels of the new age, and they’re available at many local gun shops and sold over the counter.
5. No one who owns a gun is forced to demonstrate any responsibility for it: We treat guns like toasters. No, let me rephrase that; we put more restrictions on toasters than guns. People just buy them, and leave them around the house, wherever they want, and the only time they have to demonstrate any responsibility with it is after someone is hurt, and usually, they’re only subject to civil penalties at that. If it’s stolen, they don’t have to report it. If they sell it, they don’t have to report it. If they give it away, they don’t have to tell anyone who they gave it to. Guns are not toasters. Their sole purpose is to kill. If 31,000 people are killed in traffic accidents, we make laws requiring insurance, requiring seat belt use, and banning the use of cell phones while driving. But we have 31,000 gun deaths every year, and we throw up our hands and claim we can do nothing. Why? Because a bunch of ignoramuses think the Second Amendment says we can’t, which is absurd. Governments have police powers. It’s why churches can’t do animal or human sacrifices, and smoke peyote in a neighborhood church, no matter what their favorite religious tome teaches. It’s why I can’t stand on your front sidewalk at 3 a.m: and yell “Hillary Clinton for President” with a bullhorn. It’s why police CAN search your property with probable cause, and/or a warrant. There are no absolute rights. Your right to do anything is balanced with the rights of everyone else. You don’t live in this country alone. In fact, I don’t see very many people upset because no one’s allowed to have a nuclear warhead in their backyard, and they’re not allowed to have a rocket launcher or a patriot missile. In other words, we all already agree there’s a line.
There are many reasons why it seems as if there are more mass murders, school shootings and the like. And it’s not due to the classic “society’s falling apart” excuse, or the “people have less respect for human life” dodge. It’s because we’re dealing with a flood of 21st Century weapons and applying a parody of 18th Century concepts to it. There is no unlimited right to own a gun, and never has been. You have a right to bear arms. But keep reading, because the rest of the Constitution gives the government the power to regulate them. The fact of the matter is, laws that applied to muskets cannot possibly be seen as adequate for regulating a semi-automatic gun equipped with a 100 round clip loaded with cop-killer bullets.
Guns need to be registered, like cars. Owners need to be licensed, and must be made to demonstrate financial responsibility. This is the modern world. Just as we can’t deal with cars the same way we did buggies, we can’t treat modern weapons the same as a musket.
We marked the second anniversary of the Tucson massacre a few weeks ago, and we have had 70 mass shootings (three or more victims) since then. Not a month goes by where there isn’t a school shooting. Doing nothing is no longer an option. No one’s talking about banning guns. But we do have to do more to make all gun owners responsible. If we do our best and gun deaths continue, that’s one thing. But to throw up our hands and say “nothing is all we can do” because some people choose to misread a 1787 law is not acceptable.