My friends all told me, “Don’t write about guns. You’ll receive death threats and hate mail.”
But it’s that fanaticism over guns that makes me want to write about them.
Why is the idea of passing gun-safety legislation seen as such an affront to liberty? We have liberty-curtailing impositions to protect us from other health hazards—cars, motor bikes, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, pollutants, and on and on.
There are several statistics about guns that convince me we need better protections:
The U.S. has more guns than people (about 120.5 guns per 100 people, according to the Small Arms Survey) and more guns correlate with more shootings—and the U.S. has, by far, the highest rate of gun deaths.
It seems to be getting worse. Last year was the worst year for mass shootings, and they increased 16 percent between 2014 and 2017, according to the Giffords Law Center.
Shootings cause 100 deaths per day—and three times as many injuries.
It’s the mass shootings that get people’s attention, but they never seem to prompt much more than “thoughts and prayers.” This is all coming to a head in Virginia now that Democrats run the show, and for some reason, gun legislation has become a remarkably partisan issue.
It is possible to pass effective legislation judging by what has happened in other countries. In Australia after the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre, in Canada after the 1989 Montreal engineering school shooting and in England after the Hungerford Massacre, there was meaningful legislation—which has been followed by a reduction in gun injuries.
Now, deaths per 100,000 in Australia, Canada and the U.K. are 0.9 , 2.0 and 0.23, respectively, compared with 12.21 per 100,000 in the U.S.
There are multiple justifications for why people should have unfettered access to guns, but some of them I find spurious.
The Second Amendment refers to a “well-regulated militia.” But gun owners seem far from well regulated. I doubt the Brits are coming back, and if they did, even assault-style firearms won’t help ward off an invasion in this day and age. Also, I doubt the U.S. government is ever going to get so authoritarian that guns will be needed to fight off its agents.
The “a good guy with a gun” has become a popular justification—but the right person with the right weapon willing to step in is so uncommon, The Washington Post reported the percentage of people who have used a gun in self-defense “is similar to the percentage of Americans who said they were abducted by aliens.” And a survey by the Harvard School of Public Health said, “The National Crime Victimization Surveys provide little evidence that self-defense gun use is uniquely beneficial in reducing the likelihood of injury or property loss.”
Another argument is that it’s people who kill, not guns. This may be true, but, unfortunately, there are mass shooters, and we’re not very good at identifying them, nor removing their firearms. And if one of them happens to have a gun instead of a pointed stick, or even a knife, they’re able to kill a lot more people.
So why are gun protagonists so energized about protecting their firearms?
A survey by The Pew Research Center notes some gun owners feel their ability to defend themselves and to pursue frontiersman activities, such as hunting, are being threatened.
This is good for sales, so the firearms industry supports this fear. And the NRA encourages these ideas with stuff like the “Ring of Freedom,” which is “dedicated to building relationships with patriots who are seeking to secure the future of freedom.” It also supports the ban that Florida enacted on doctors asking about gun safety in the home.
The NRA claims doctors are really “lecturing parents and children about guns” and this is not about gun safety, but is “a political agenda to ban guns” (this was finally struck down by the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals, which said the First Amendment trumps the Second, but it took many years of wrangling.)
A lot of gun protagonists’ fears lie in the idea that if you allow gun registration or licensing or pretty much any other legislation, that is just the thin end of the wedge, a preliminary action to taking away people’s guns altogether.
My opinion is that when confronted with the carnage that guns and their users are associated with, and which have no purpose other than shooting people/animals/targets, unlike other things we regulate, then it’s not unreasonable to take some precautions. We should keep developing smart guns, promoting firearms training and holding gun buybacks. And we could implement licensing or registering, universal background checks, a ban on straw purchases and on large capacity magazines and assault rifles, like there used to be between 1994 and 2004.