Gun violence in America

 Gun violence in America is an unforgivable tragedy. It is man made and preventable, but because of fear and political cowardice, it continues to worsen.

Recent research by sociologists Christopher Ellison and Benjamin Dowd-Arrow show that one of the bigger predictors for gun ownership is a belief in demons.  This magical thinking assumes that evil can break out anywhere at any moment and it is important to have a superpower to stop it.

There are two types of people in the world: good people and basically good people under too much duress. Assigning monikers of good or evil to individuals is not only misguided, it is a betrayal of the redemptive dictum of Christianity. The Uvalde shooter had no criminal record and like three quarters of shooters he obtained his weapon legally.

The media coverage of the tragic event in Texas distracts from the fact that 320 people are shot in this country each day. About one hundred and twenty die. America has had 270 mass shooting since 2009. Four-hundred thousand have lost their lives to guns since Sandy Hook. Guns are now the leading cause of death among children ages one to nineteen.

The motivations of shooters are irrelevant and as varied as are the perpetrators. After a year-long investigation of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history five years ago in Las Vegas, the FBI failed to identify a motive.

The focus on mental illness is a distraction. One in five people will have a mood disorder in their lifetimes.

We know what works based on the precedents of many other rich nations. After Britain’s ban on handguns and semiautomatic weapons and Australia’s bans followed by temporary gun buy-backs, shooting deaths plunged. The annual gun-death toll of Australia occurs in the U.S. every 40 hours. 

Laws requiring background checks for gun sales are helpful but vary from state to state. More than a fifth of gun homicides could not be identified this way, not to mention the half of suicides accomplished with guns. It would be more helpful to have national legislation to raise the age limit for gun purchases and ban the sale of certain guns and ammunition as well as non-traceable ghost guns.  Mandatory safe storage and ongoing gun training are proven to reduce deaths.

The existing technology for smart guns that can only be fired by their owners would help assuage the concerns of strong 2nd amendment advocates. It should be telling for them that the gun industry strongly resists implementing this technology.

A lack of national regulation for transporting firearms across state lines is exploited by drug cartels. Straw purchases of guns made in the U.S. flood into Central and South America. They foster the violence that drives many immigrants to the U.S. It is ironic that the very laws needed to stop this travesty are resisted by the same individuals that are most offended by immigrants. The $280 billion lost to gun violence each year would more than pay for reasonable immigration reform.

Fifty-one percent of Americans now believe AR-15 rifles and other semiautomatic weapons should be banned at the national level. Civilians own more of them than the U.S. military owns their fully automatic counterparts. After a ban, the federal government should institute a buy-back program and spend whatever it takes.

The filibuster should be set aside to accomplish this.

Americans own 400 million guns and continue to buy 50K of them each day. This is the highest gun ownership rate in the world, well above Yemen in the midst of a civil war. It is easier to buy a gun in the U.S. than a service animal.

Even though guns in the home are more likely to result in unintentional death of a family member than to stop an intruder, no legislator is suggesting banning rifles or shotguns for protecting one’s household.

The constitutional protection of the 2nd Amendment, like any right, is qualified. Civilians can’t buy any gun they want just like they can’t buy hand grenades. Our failure to pursue the evidence will lead us to government monitoring of web searches to potentially ID a shooter. This would be a bigger constitutional encroachment.

Cars kill people too, but increasing regulation and technology have reduced the per capita death rate by 90% since the 1920s despite a huge increase in the number of cars. Cars are the cornerstone of industrial society, so this is a tradeoff we have to make.

For the limited utility of guns, in just a few decades, they have killed more Americans on our own soil than in all the wars in our nation’s history. This is not a good deal. It is a magical Faustian bargain.

Our legislators that sheepishly follow their fears of being “primaried” by the far right instead of leading on this major public health issue are culpable in the tragedy.

William Culbert is a physician who lives in Oak Ridge and has a  practice in Clinton.


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