America Continues to Choose Guns over Children

After the shooting of children and young people at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Santa Fe High School, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, American did next to nothing. Enough already. No more excuses. Unlike cars or knives, guns were made with one purpose: to kill. Contrary to what NRA leadership and the gun lobby would have us believe, having a gun in hand does not, like a magic wand, make everything better in our lives. Because of its lethal purpose, using a gun, even without discharging it, tends to escalate matters, rather than solve them. It’s high time America behaves more responsibly when it comes to firearms.

Last Thursday, a shooter in Los Angeles killed four people, including his family, someone at a gas station, and someone on a bus, and injured at least two others. On Sunday, three people were killed and several others injured in a shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, also in California. The deceased range from age 6 to age 25. On Monday, shootings had left 5 people dead and two injured across two homes in Wisconsin. By Tuesday, two people had been killed and two wounded, including an officer, in a shooting at a Mississippi Walmart. That does not include the numerous shooting injuries and deaths in other areas throughout the country over that same time period.

Some find the media coverage of shootings to be of the sales-driven, “If it bleeds, it leads” variety, greatly overemphasizing violent deaths. To be clear, violent crime is on the decline in America. Things like heart disease and cancer kill a much larger percentage of the population in this country than guns do. We are more likely to die due to accidental exposure to toxic substances than to guns.

However, when it comes to things like suicide and homicide, i.e., intentional deaths, firearms become the means of choice. Of the 6 deaths per 100,000 people due to homicide in 2017, 4.5 of those were by gun. Of the 14.5 deaths per 100,000 people by suicide, 7.3 of those were by gun.

Things get more serious when we start breaking matters down by age and ethnicity, particularly for America’s youth, like the victims in Gilroy. Among all American males, homicide was the cause of death for 20.3% of males who died between the ages of 15-19. For males 20-24 it was 16.9%, and 13% for those 25-29. Meanwhile, suicide was responsible for 24.7% of the deaths of all males ages 15-19; 19.7% of those 20-24, and 16.2% in those 25-29. 

For white men in those age brackets, the homicide percentages ranged from 5.6% to 3.5%; but suicide ranged from 33.6% – 19.3%. For black men, the numbers are more tragic. Homicide ranged from 50.6% – 38.8%, while suicide ranged from 10.2%-8.2%. As we know from the other statistics, the majority of those deaths would have been via gun. According to one study published in 2018, U.S. children age 15-19 are 82 times more likely to die from gun homicide than children of the same age in other developed countries.

Bear in mind, none of those statistics included those injured by guns, or those traumatized by gun violence. Also be aware that trauma happens not just to those shot, but to those who witness a shooting and those whose loved ones are shooting victims. A 2017 Pew survey found that 44% of Americans indicate they know someone who has been shot. Approximately 23% say someone has used a gun to threaten them or their family. The impact of gun violence is widespread.

Despite obvious reason for concern, America barely takes any action to reduce gun violence, largely due to the gun lobby’s sway over many politicians and citizens alike. The gun lobby and, particularly, gun manufacturers, whose bottom line rests on keeping American gun sales hopping, have worked hard to influence how Americans think about and legislate firearms.

They pumped millions into the NRA, so that the NRA leadership forwards gun makers’ concerns over its’ members interests. The gun lobby has used the NRA to foster in the American psyche a reverence for firearms as near-magical fixalls and to buy Republican lawmakers, ensuring legislative outcomes favorable to gun manufacturers. 

Over the last several decades, America has seen the fruits of those efforts. Congress did not renew or reform the flawed 1994 federal assault-weapons ban in 2004. The government halted funding for gun violence research. That freeze also had a chilling effect on independently funded research. In the Heller case, the Supreme Court set aside the Second Amendment’s mention of a “well regulated militia” to determine the Amendment protected an individual’s right to own guns. The ruling has since been regularly used to contest legal restrictions on the possession or carrying of firearms, albeit not often successfully. Meanwhile, Congress passed laws effectively shielding gun sellers and manufacturers from lawsuits. Legislators successfully pushed for more open carry, permitless carry, and expanded concealed carry, with 43 of 50 states now having more permissive gun licensing laws.

The gun lobby and NRA’s cultural campaigns, such as “good guy with a gun,” have significantly polarized attitudes about gun regulations along party and gun ownership lines. A 2018 Pew survey indicated that 57% of adults think U.S. gun laws should be more strict. However, the same survey indicates only 28% of Republicans and GOP-leaners agree, and 76% of Republicans think it’s more important to protect the right to own guns than to control gun ownership. The majority of Americans, regardless of political divides, believe in preventing those with mental illness from buying guns and favor background checks for sales at gun shows and private sales. However, close to 70% of Republicans want to allow more people to carry concealed weapons in more places. And a Democratic gun owner is twice as likely has their non-gun owning Democratic counterpart to favor expanded concealed carry.

As recent events once more reminded us, those enthralled by the messaging from gun lobby and NRA leadership need to shake themselves out of their stupor. They should not continue to simply shrug their shoulders and say gun violence affects too small a percentage of Americans to do anything about. Diehard gun advocates cannot continue to cite the Second Amendment as an excuse for doing nothing. Under the law, people have the right to own guns, but that does not mean there can be no consequence when those guns are used illegally or irresponsibly.  

Talking about incidents such as those that occurred over the last week is not over-exaggeration. It’s merely revealing everyday gun violence and the cost of America’s gun culture. We work on reducing deaths due to causes big and small such as heart disease (262 deaths/100,000 people), cancer (184/100,000), car accidents (12.4/100,000), and drowning (1.1/100,000). American has no excuse not to do the same when it comes to reducing gun violence (12/100,000 overall, but about 18/100,000 for those ages 15 to 34), via both common sense laws and changing our cultural attitudes. 

The statistics tell us that young people’s lives are at stake. Americans need to start acting like grown-ups on this issue.

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